Ella Thompson, whose tireless efforts to bring hope to a drug-infested West Baltimore neighborhood made her a heroine of the book "The Corner," died of a heart attack yesterday while picking up computers donated for a city recreation center. She was 47.
"She saw the possibilities in everybody," said David Simon, co-author of the 1997 book that portrayed the battered realities of her neighborhood. "She understood innately that a 15-year-old drug dealer is still a 15-year-old. And she understood that a 38-year-old neighbor lost to heroin addiction is still a neighbor."
Ms. Thompson dedicated her life to the Franklin Square Community Association center after the youngest of her five children, 12-year-old Andrea Perry, was raped and murdered in 1988.
She channeled her grief into work for the center, offering shelter, kindness and order to children in a chaotic neighborhood.
"She provided what I figured was a safe haven," said Joyce Smith, director of the community association. "She was a second mother to a lot of those children."
Called "Miss Ella" by children and adults alike, Ms. Thompson became a key character in "The Corner" because of her resilience in the face of the violence and drug addiction that consumed many.
Fran Boyd, whose struggles with heroin are recounted in the book, said yesterday, "All the children just looked up to her. She was so sweet. She just reached out to everybody she could."
In January, Baltimore magazine named Ms. Thompson one of its Baltimoreans of the Year. ABC-TV's "Nightline" featured Ms. Thompson in a show last winter.
Yesterday about noon, she was on her way to pick up computers donated for city recreation centers by the staff of "Nightline" when she had a heart attack. She was pronounced dead at Maryland General Hospital.
For two years, Ms. Thompson had worked for the KidsGrow program, teaching children at West Baltimore centers about the environment through fishing trips, neighborhood cleanups and the planting of a street-corner garden.
"She's a beautiful soul," said co-worker Janet Parker. "She had unbounded dedication and love for the children she worked with. "
Born in South Carolina, Mrs. Thompson moved to Baltimore and graduated from Eastern High School. She had two failed marriages.
She sang in the choir at Jones Tabernacle Baptist Church in West Baltimore.
She was recently engaged to Larry Fowlkes, her high school sweetheart and father of her oldest daughter, Shulita McGregor. Also surviving are daughter Donilla Lawson; and two sons, Allan Burrell, and Kiti Perry. All are of Baltimore.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete. Memorial donations may be made to the Andrea Perry Memorial Fund, in care of Parks & People Foundation, 1901 Eagle Drive, Baltimore 21207.
Pub Date: 5/09/98