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Irma Roy, Western High principal


Irma K. Roy, who worked in Baltimore's school system 44 years and was Western High School's first black principal, died Wednesday of heart and lung complications at the University of Maryland Medical Center. She was 82.

In 1977, Mrs. Roy became principal of Western High for several months after then-principal Angelo F. Fortunato became principal of Centennial High School in Ellicott City.

Earlier, she had been vice-principal of Western's downtown annex at Centre and Howard streets for several years.

Former students said that Mrs. Roy developed a reputation as a hard worker who inspired students to achieve and listened to their concerns, and she was known for a no-nonsense attitude.

One of her former students, retired Court of Appeals Judge Harry Cole, recalled studying Latin with her at Booker T. Washington Junior High School. "I liked her a whole lot," he said. "She was very frank, very straightforward. She wanted you to be attentive and put your best foot forward, and you couldn't try to fool her."

But Mrs. Roy had a soft side, too, he recalled. "She could be a friend to students -- that was her greatest asset," he said.

"Students would go back to her classroom just to talk to her," said Mrs. Roy's sister, Blanche Day Hargrove of Baltimore.

"She had a good sense of humor about her and insisted that you learn," recalled State Sen. Clarence W. Blount, her student at Booker T. Washington Junior High School.

Born and reared in West Baltimore, the girl who would grow up to teach at several city schools and be principal of Western High could not attend the school as a student. She was black, and the city's school system was segregated at the time.

Instead, Mrs. Roy graduated from Douglass High School in 1928. She later attended Morgan State University, graduating in 1932. She received a master's degree in education from Johns Hopkins University.

She began teaching Latin in 1933 at Dunbar and Booker T. Washington junior high schools. She later became head of the English Department at Carver Vocational-Technical Senior High School.

For many years as a younger woman, Mrs. Roy was interested in theater. Starting in the late 1930s, she appeared in productions of the Negro Little Theater, which became the Arena Players in 1947. She played the lead role in the Arena Players' production of "Arsenic and Old Lace."

She was a charter member of the Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore and raised money for Methodist churches in the mid-Atlantic area by reciting poems by James Weldon Johnson, Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Edgar Allan Poe. Her rendition of "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Poe "scared the heck out of you," recalled her sister-in-law, Verna Day of Baltimore.

Services were planned for noon tomorrow at the Douglas Memorial Community Church, Lafayette and Madison avenues.

Mrs. Roy married three times. Her most recent husband, William Roy, died in the late 1950s.

In addition to her sister, Mrs. Hargrove, Mrs. Roy is survived by another sister, Bernice Kellam Brent of Spring Hill, Fla.; and a brother, Walter Kellam of Brooklyn, N.Y.

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