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Myrtle 'Mama Myrt' Howerton, 59, neighborhood activist in W. Baltimore

Myrtle "Mama Myrt" Howerton didn't mind telling it like it was - to the mayor, the police chief or even drug dealers who conducted illegal activity in her West Baltimore neighborhood.

She was well respected within the ranks of City Hall, where council members observed a moment of silence last night for her.

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Mrs. Howerton, who was 59, died yesterday of respiratory failure at Maryland General Hospital.

During the council meeting, Mayor Martin O'Malley praised Mrs. Howerton for her efforts to help make Baltimore a better place to live, noting that she served on his Believe campaign and also on the Police Department's civilian review board.

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"Mama Myrt was a powerful force in our city neighborhoods," Mr. O'Malley said. "She had no tolerance for racial politics or the politics of fear and division. She was never afraid to speak up and speak her mind, and she was never afraid to speak truth to power."

The flag outside City Hall was lowered to half-staff yesterday in her honor, and at the conclusion of the council meeting, members took turns reflecting on her life.

"Most of us knew of her as an activist in our community, a stalwart of the Druid Heights neighborhood," said Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh. "We know she is watching over us. This is a sad loss for all of Baltimore."

Council President Sheila Dixon added: "She has touched the lives of young people all over this city."

She was born Myrtle Elizabeth Taylor and raised in Philadelphia, where she graduated from high school.

She was married for 27 years to Rufus Howerton, who died in 1989.

Mrs. Howerton retired after 16 years as a medicine aide at Meridian Nursing Home in Catonsville, said her daughter, Leverta Taylor of Baltimore.

She had lived on Laurens Street in Druid Heights for 35 years. Children regularly dropped by her rowhouse seeking advice on matters from school to home life to sexuality.

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They and their parents knew they could count on Mrs. Howerton's annual back-to-school block party Aug. 30. Her granddaughter, Chantera Cook, 19, of Baltimore, said Mrs. Howerton's house is stocked with supplies for the party.

"Our living room is packed with notebook paper, notebooks, crayons and everything," Ms. Cook said. "My grandmom was a caring person, not only for her family members but also for her friends. She would help anyone who needed help. She was a strong, independent black woman."

Mrs. Howerton was a staunch supporter of former police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, with whom she developed a close, personal friendship.

Yesterday Mr. Norris broke down as he talked about his friend.

"I'm devastated," said Mr. Norris, the state police superintendent. "I feel like I lost a family member. I used to talk with her every day, sometimes a couple of times a day. We're very, very close friends. I'm going to miss her very much. She was a very courageous woman. She was my biggest supporter. She was supporting me before it became fashionable. It's a tremendous loss to the city."

Ms. Cook said her grandmother, who had severe arthritis, was taken to the hospital yesterday because of breathing difficulties.

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"She always joked and played about not wanting any of us crying at her funeral," Ms. Cook said. "She said she wanted everyone to laugh and play. She didn't want any flowers at her funeral. She said they are fresh for a minute but eventually go bad. She wanted balloons."

Plans were incomplete last night for the funeral, which will include white balloons and be held at New Bethlehem Freewill Baptist Church in East Baltimore, where Mrs. Howerton was an active member.

She is also survived by another daughter, Lea Howerton of Baltimore, and a second granddaughter, Breah Matthews of Baltimore.

Sun staff writer Tom Pelton contributed to this article.


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