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Old Town: A fascinating neighbor, whose family has been in Laurel for generations

Mary Anna Rice, an Old Town resident since 1965, celebrated her 89th birthday on Feb. 6.
Mary Anna Rice, an Old Town resident since 1965, celebrated her 89th birthday on Feb. 6. (HANDOUT)

Much of the appeal of this lovely little slice of land we call Laurel is the many interesting characters who inhabit it. From longtime residents to newcomers, retirees to young families, our Old Town neighbors always have unique stories to tell.

Surely among the most charming of them is Mary Anna Rice, an Old Town resident for more than a half-century, who celebrated her 89th birthday last week.

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Rice was born on Feb. 6, 1931, to parents who owned a tobacco farm near Upper Marlboro. Her family has been in Maryland for centuries. Among her ancestors is Robert Brooke, who arrived in Maryland in 1650 and briefly served as colonial governor of Maryland in 1652. Some of Brooke’s children married into the storied Calvert and Neale families. Rice is also a collateral descendant of John Carroll, the first archbishop of Baltimore.

Though Rice was an only child, she grew up with a band of friends who remain close today.

“I had friends nearby with whom I still keep in touch,” she said. “Our parents were friends. Our grandparents were friends.”

She was too young to recall many of the hardships of the Great Depression but vividly remembers the home front during World War II. Her father served on the Draft Board and her mother volunteered as a Gray Lady, an outreach of the American Red Cross. Rations were imposed, but living on a farm afforded the family steady access to fresh vegetables and meats. When she got older, Rice recalls being allowed to spend many a Saturday afternoon at the movies with her girlfriends, watching everything from cowboys to cartoons.

Rice earned a degree in music from the University of Maryland and soon became an airline stewardess. She moved to California for 15 months for the job but didn’t like it and soon came back east. She lived for a while in Washington and worked an office job at National Geographic. A mutual friend introduced her to Richard Rice, a local attorney. They married in 1964 at Epiphany Church in Washington and settled in Laurel in 1965.

The Rices raised four sons in Old Town. She became a parishioner at St. Mary of the Mills Parish, where she still attends Mass each morning. She took up gardening as a hobby and in the process transformed her yard into a beautiful, peaceful oasis.

“I’m not as crazy about gardening as much as the results of it,” she said with laughter. Recently, she added, “My garden has decided to go its own way.”

Rice has experienced deep loss in the deaths of her husband and two of her children yet she remains cheerful, incisive and a wonderful conversationalist. She dines weekly at Pasta Plus and is a frequent chauffeur for her friends who no longer drive. Rice visits art galleries, attends the ballet and is always up for a trip to the beach. She is grateful for the neighbors who look after her and a community that keeps her young.

“I don’t want it to be just old people,” she said of her desire to stay in her home. “When I was young, I liked older people, and now that I’m older, I like younger people. Everybody has something to offer.”

Mrs. Rice, you offer our community a great deal. Happy birthday.

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