Mildred Boughan, who managed a row of church-owned apartments for the elderly and indigent on St. Paul Street, died Thursday of respiratory failure at the Manor Care nursing home in Ruxton. She was 92.
Known as a charitable woman with a no-nonsense approach to life, Ms. Boughan had a 45-year career with C & P Telephone Co. before devoting her life to helping people who lived in the simple brick structures just north of North Avenue.
She was born in Tappahanoc, Va., where she was raised in a small farmhouse. Her parents were poor but were determined that she receive a good education.
After graduating from a local high school, she earned a degree at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va., and moved to Baltimore, where she was hired by the telephone company.
Ms. Boughan became a service representative and by the 1950s rose into the management ranks. One of her duties was to train service representatives and other employees in the skills needed to communicate effectively with the public.
She retired in 1973, but volunteered almost immediately to run seven buildings that had been purchased by the Seventh Baptist Church. She had been a member of the congregation since the 1930s; after her retirement, church work became her life.
Ms. Boughan lived in a second-story apartment in one of the buildings and managed a church thrift shop in addition to managing the apartments. More than anything, she was a lifeline to the people - mostly single and poor - who lived in the 30 units.
"A lot of the people were elderly, or they were uneducated," said Angela George, a friend who knew her from C & P and helped out at the thrift shop. "They would come to her with every problem in the world - billing problems and taxes.
"She was a giver, but she was tough. Not a marshmallow."
She would give residents a second or third chance when they violated rules of the building but didn't hesitate to evict them if they didn't reform. At the thrift shop, she would frequently lend money to people who wandered in, but would also show them the door if they made nuisances of themselves.
Into her 80s, she performed many maintenance duties herself. She was frequently seen running up and down the steps to tend to duties, even after recovering from a broken hip.
"She might be down in the cellar at 3 in the morning checking a furnace that stopped," said Ms. George, who also recalled when her friend went to a resident's apartment to remove a mouse from the bathtub.
She was a slight woman, perhaps 5 feet, 3 inches tall and 100 pounds, but would stand up to anybody, friends said.
"She was a little lady, but if you got on her, she could really get back at you," said Quay Taylor, a former resident. "She was a lady who spoke her piece. Everybody liked her and respected her."
Ms. Boughan was robbed several times - including once when a man walked into the thrift shop, pulled a stocking over his head and demanded money at gunpoint.
"She was [saying,] 'You better get out. We don't have any money,'" recalled Ms. George, who was also there. The two women were bound and gagged, and the man made off with $12.
In the tiny plot of earth that was her back yard, she maintained a garden, and she cared for houseplants and became the plant doctor for friends and residents who would bring half-dead specimens to her for rescue. "She would always bring them back," Ms. George said.
She raised plants from cuttings, and sold them at the thrift shop, which mainly sold cheap clothes and furnishings to neighborhood dwellers. But the store served another purpose - raising about $12,000 a year that helped pay the cost of heating the buildings. This helped keep rents low.
"It was amazing," said the Rev. Robert Dorr, the now-retired Seventh Baptist pastor who spearheaded the move to acquire the buildings. "Once [the shop] got known, it received stuff from all over the place."
The church offered to let her live rent-free in return for her labors, but she always refused. She was also church treasurer and was an active member of the board of trustees.
In 1983, Mayor William Donald Schaefer honored Ms. Boughan as one of "Baltimore's Best."
Recognizing that she had grown frail, friends persuaded her six years ago to move to the Glen Meadows retirement home in Glen Arm. By that time, the church was under new leadership and had decided to sell the buildings, all of which are now in private hands.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home, 6500 York Road in Rodgers Forge.
She is survived by her sister, Emily Hopkins of Pasadena; her brother, Henry Boughan of Virginia; and two nephews and two nieces.