Pamela Purdy chats with Clinton MacSherry at a City Paper Party circa 1991
Pamela Purdy chats with Clinton MacSherry at a City Paper Party circa 1991 (Joseph Kohl)

Pamela Purdy--former editor and architect of City Paper's Baltimore Weekly calendar listings, dedicated theater critic, teacher of children, unlikely punk-rock club habitué, and champion of some of the city's most challenging artists--died of a heart attack at her Owings Mills home on Sept. 20, her 67th birthday. She is survived by her brother John (Jack) Purdy, of Baltimore; brother Dwight and sister-in-law Jeanne (Jibby) Purdy, of Louisiana; and two nieces and a nephew. No public memorial service is planned.

She was born in Baltimore, the daughter of Joseph and Genevieve Purdy; her father worked for what is now BGE from high school until he retired as an executive. According to Jack Purdy (a former City Paper contributing writer), the family first lived with her paternal grandparents in Pikesville. When Pamela was a teenager, they moved to a house built by her father in Owings Mills.

Pamela Purdy attended Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1962 from what is now known as Randolph College in Lynchburg, Va. From there, she went on to complete a year of graduate study in speech and drama at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., where she studied under Alvina Krauss, whose pupils included future Hollywood icon Charlton Heston.

She taught modern dance and theater at Randolph, and in 1964 she headed to Europe for two years, living in London and Florence, Italy. In addition to time spent as a teaching assistant at art and theater schools and as a member of the American Theatre Company of Florence, she worked as a governess for an Italian countess, who was apparently a colorful figure. "Pam said she used to preach Marxism to her peasants before ordering them back to work," writes Jack Purdy in an e-mail message.

Back in the States, she returned to the family home in Owings Mills, where she lived the rest of her life. She took courses in early childhood education at what is now Towson University, and taught preschool at Happy Acres Child Care in Owings Mills, says Jack Purdy.

But in her off hours, she pursued a passion for the arts. She performed in a local production of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She helped organize poetry readings. Perhaps most fatefully, though, she befriended the owners of the Marble Bar, Baltimore's premier punk-rock venue in the 1980s. She established herself as a regular among the young, loud scenesters, even as she entered middle age.

She was a natural mentor, Jack Purdy says. "She enjoyed being around young people, and not in a Peter Pan way. She always enjoyed whatever was the new, weird thing."

"A lot of people in the early-'80s punk scene in Baltimore owe her a debt," says Tim Ore, better known as local artist tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE (and whose real name is Michael Tolson), who now lives in Pittsburgh. "She was very supportive of them when most people in Baltimore weren't."

In this milieu, her experience in handling children sometimes cast her in the role of mother figure. When the band Devo came to town, "they had one of those ridiculous `riders' in their show contract, and she was naive about the impish ways of the rock stars, so she went all over town freaking out looking for kumquats, specifically requested for the dressing-room spread," writes City Paper art director and longtime friend Joe MacLeod in an e-mail about Purdy. "Anyone who knows Pam can see that mini-movie in their head."

In the early 1980s, Purdy was hired by City Paper's founding editor, Russ Smith, as a part-time employee. She helped assemble the paper's weekly calendar and contributed to theater coverage. She became the full-time editor of the paper's Baltimore Weekly section in 1989 and is credited with establishing the template for its current incarnation.

"She's the reason our events calendar is so deep," MacLeod notes. "She tried always to include as many events as possible, not just the big popular ones, but the esoteric and weird."

Michael Yockel, a former City Paper editor who was Purdy's colleague until he left the paper in 1993, says she "heightened the visibility of culture in the city, from the most obscure teeny-punk groups to the most under-rehearsed theater productions. They all had their 15 seconds of fame because of Pam."

Sometimes Purdy achieved her own notoriety. In 1983, she was arrested for putting up fliers to publicize the 7th International Neoist Apartment Festival, an arts event planned by Ore. A judge ordered her to remove fliers from sites around the city; Ore decided to film her carrying out her sentence, creating the film APT 7.

As a journalist, Ore says, "she was open-minded and supportive. She was not the type of reporter who felt the need to act like she was superior, or be a gossip columnist, or get in little digs at people."

Her wit and keen observations infused her writing--and also what MacLeod fondly recalls as "lots of leisurely lunches with snappy repartee."

The two of them shared a love of daytime television dramas, he says, and relished the shows' absurdities. "Stuff like where sometimes actors who were dying in real life would do death scenes on their show since they were being written out," he writes, "or call each other by their real names, or do this thing where they would have to look troubled or emotional, and she said the trick is to say to yourself, `Did I leave the iron on when I left the house?'"

Purdy's CP tenure, however, was defined more by tireless work than leisurely lunches. In addition to overseeing the calendar, she reviewed scores of theatrical productions for the paper.

Her reviews, Yockel says, were "insightful and trenchant," and revealed the sensitivity of a critic who had also trod the boards. "She went beyond talking about the writer, director, and cast and recognized the work of the lighting director, the costumer. And I think that was appreciated."

It was, says Beverly Sokol, founding director of Fells Point Corner Theatre, which was created in a merger of two local troupes in 1987. Purdy "was very intelligent and savvy in terms of what works in theater, and at that point reviews were very important to us," Sokol says. "We felt very encouraged by her."

Creative differences with Sono Motoyama, CP's next editor, over the direction of the Baltimore Weekly section led to Purdy's decision to leave the paper in the fall of 1995.

"Pam was a diligent worker, very dedicated to City Paper, and an integral part of its history," writes Motoyama, who left the paper in early 1996, in an e-mail message from her current home in France. "On top of that she was a funny, fascinating woman and a talented writer. I was sorry to hear of her sudden passing."

After leaving CP, Purdy worked as a private child-care provider and took care of her mother during her parent's last years.

"I remember reading something Pam wrote in the paper about how on the drive to work sometimes she would talk to her dear departed father," MacLeod writes. "I guess I'll be talking to Pam on some of my drives to the office from now on."

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