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Mary Bristow, 70, nurse, poet, columnist for Harford paper


Mary R. S. Bristow, a poet and columnist for a Harford County newspaper, died Saturday of cancer at the Bel Air Convalescent Center Inc. She was 70.

A nurse by profession, she became interested in writing in 1964 after moving from Loch Raven Village in Baltimore County to a 19th century white clapboard house on Hickory Avenue in Bel Air.

For years she wrote a column, "Couth and Culture" for The Aegis, which combined theater reviews with local history and anecdotes. Her unconventional views endeared her to readers.

"She had an incredible interest in cultural affairs and was just an all-around person. I can't tell you how well-known and liked she was in the community," said Mary Weeks, former mayor of Bel Air and longtime friend.

Mrs. Bristow also wrote for The Sun Magazine, Maryland Magazine and Town and Country Life, and at her death she was finishing a manuscript of an illustrated history of the grist mills of Harford County from 1659-1973.

Her poetry often addressed nature and women's issues, according to her daughter, Glenn Bristow of New York City.

"She was a feminist before the word was invented and was a dynamic example of what a woman could be. She was proud that she was a working woman in the 1950s and also raising a family. She faced opposition most of her life because of the stands she took," Ms. Bristow said.

"She had this goal of writing the perfect haiku because she was a minimalist. I'm not sure if she succeeded or not."

She was described by her daughter as "feisty and a very strong-willed individual."

The former Mary Reiter Smithson was born in Rocks in Harford County. After the death of her father, she was placed in the Egenton Female Orphan Asylum in Mount Washington.

"Her feelings of abandonment were real but she was happy that she was rescued by the orphanage. However, it always remained a lifelong, tender issue," her daughter said.

Mrs. Bristow graduated from Western High School in 1943 and from Union Memorial Hospital's Johnston School of Nursing in 1947. She later worked as a nurse at Union Memorial and the Maryland School for the Blind.

She was a member of the Comic Opera Company of Baltimore and sang in the Baltimore Symphony Chorus.

Mrs. Bristow also was a member of the Harford County Poetry Society and a docent at Liriodendron, the former Harford County summer home of Dr. Howard Kelly, one of the founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital.

In 1968, she published "A Gilbert and Sullivan Bibliography."

Her husband of 38 years, Andrew M. Bristow, died in 1985.

Services were private and plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

Other survivors include two sons, Mercer Bristow of State College, Pa., and Robert S. Bristow of Westfield, Mass.

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