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Mary Elizabeth Reaves, 83, self-taught seamstress

Mary Elizabeth Reaves, a self-taught seamstress who was among the original members of Mount Calvary Star Baptist Church, died of heart failure Thursday at her home in Northeast Baltimore. She was 83.

Born Mary Elizabeth Ransom in Garysburg, N.C., she attended the Garysburg public schools and picked cotton on farms there. She married Willie Reaves Sr. in 1937 and the couple moved to Richmond, Va., to start a family.

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The couple had 10 children -- five boys and five girls -- and in 1959 moved to Northeast Baltimore, where Mrs. Reaves became well-known for her sewing skills. Her bright hats, adorned with sequins and other ornaments, were legendary, said a daughter-in-law, Pam Reaves of Baltimore. Mrs. Reaves also made coats, purses, slips and dresses.

She and her husband, a laborer who died in 1990, were among the first members of Mount Calvary Star Baptist in East Baltimore, where Mrs. Reaves was an usher and longtime choir member. She was also on the church's missionary board and a member of its Willing Workers group, from which she helped run a soup kitchen and clothing program for the homeless.

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Services were held there yesterday, and Mrs. Reaves was buried in a suit and matching hat she had made.

Survivors include her sons, Linwood Reaves of Chesterfield, Va., Alton Reaves of Baer, Del., and Willie Reaves Jr., George Reaves and Grayland Reaves, all of Baltimore; her daughters, Delphine Brooks of Hampstead, N.Y., Dorine Barnes of Atlanta, Betty Reaves of Yearndon, Pa., and Dora Brownley and Patricia Reaves, both of Baltimore; a brother, Andrew Ransom of Baltimore; a sister, Pocahontas Webb of New York; 17 grandchildren; 28 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.


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