Mary Ellen Reno, a well-known Walters Art Museum docent and world traveler who relished sharing her enthusiasm and appreciation for Asian art with gallery visitors, died of lung cancer Saturday at her Towson home. She was 69.
She was born Mary Ellen Klock in Rochester, N.Y., and raised in Verona, N.J., and Chambersburg, Pa., where she graduated from high school in 1952. After earning a degree in French from Bryn Mawr College in 1956, she taught school for a year in Devon, Pa.
In 1957, she married Russell R. Reno Jr., a lawyer and partner in the Baltimore law firm of Venable LLP.
While raising her four children, Mrs. Reno worked during the 1980s as a part-time tour guide for the now-defunct Baltimore Rent-A-Tour, which provided tours of the area for visiting conventions and guests attending meetings.
She also volunteered teaching English as a second language to post-doctoral scholars who were studying at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and School of Hygiene and Public Health.
"Many of these students, particularly those coming from China, needed help in perfecting their English language skills, and as a result, she became interested in China and also in the Chinese language," her husband said.
Mrs. Reno enjoyed hiking and backpacking. With her family, she completed Sierra Club-sponsored treks across the California Sierras, Rockies, Tetons and Canadian Rockies. In 1982, she traveled to Tibet, and climbed 17,400 feet to the former British base camp on Mount Everest.
"She wasn't the natural hiker that her husband was and went to great effort to learn how to hike," said Carolyn Richter, a Hamden, Conn., lawyer and a friend for 30 years.
"It was during the trip to Tibet that she became interested in the Chinese language," Mr. Reno said. "Two years later, we took a Sierra Club bicycle trip and pedaled 400 miles up the Yellow River. Prior to the second trip, Mary Ellen took a five-day Berlitz total immersion Chinese language course and therefore was able to interact on a rather basic level with the local Chinese people."
In 1986, Mrs. Reno traveled to Beijing, where she spent six weeks studying at the Chinese Language Institute.
Because of her interest in Asian art, Mrs. Reno began volunteering as a docent in 1990 at the Walters' Hackerman House, where the museum's Asian collection is housed.
"She was our educational ambassador of Asian art and did a wonderful job," said John Shields, the Walters' manager of docent and internship programs. "She was able to do it because she had seen firsthand the finest Asian art and had a love of the culture.
"She was also a modest person who was willing to share her experiences. She could easily explain concepts and symbolism."
"She really was one of the Walters' most devoted docents and as curator of the Asian Art Collection, I knew that adults and children were in good hands," said Hiram W. "Woody" Woodward Jr.
Mrs. Reno was a longtime member of the Baltimore-Xiamen Sister City Committee.
She was a communicant of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 503 N. Charles St., where a memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. June 26.
Survivors, in addition to her husband, include two sons, Russell R. Reno III of Omaha, Neb., and William Reno of Evanston, Ill.; two daughters, Mary Hall Reno of Iowa City, Iowa, and Elizabeth Reno of Swarthmore, Pa.; and eight grandchildren.
Mary Ellen Reno: An obituary for Mary Ellen Reno in Friday's editions incorrectly stated that Baltimore Rent-A-Tour, for which she had been a guide, was no longer in business. The company, established in 1974, still offers area tours. The Sun regrets the error.