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James Purman

The Baltimore Sun

James N. Purman, a World War II veteran and former Episcopal priest who became an addictions counselor, a house painter and curator for a municipal museum, died Monday of heart and circulatory disease at the home of his daughter in Wichita, Kan. The former Sykesville resident was 81.

Mr. Purman served at parishes in Baltimore and as the rector of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church until he left the ministry in 1973 to work in counseling. He also maintained a painting business that ultimately led him to the Gatehouse Museum in Sykesville.

Hired to paint the former hospital building while the town was converting it into a museum, he eventually became its curator. For several years, he amassed and managed a growing collection of town memorabilia, including arrowheads, vintage costumes and railroad artifacts. He also gave town officials a detailed annual report of acquisitions, adding a lively commentary.

Born in Chicago, Mr. Purman grew up in Kentucky and served in the Army during World War II, earning the Bronze Star and Combat Infantry Badge.

After graduating from Berea College and Kentucky Theological College, he moved to Baltimore in 1956. He served at Holy Evangelist Church and Church of the Resurrection in the city before moving to Sykesville, where he remained until two years ago.

Mr. Purman lost a daughter, Elisabeth McDonnell, to suicide and his youngest son, Richard, was murdered in 1987. "He had to overcome a lot of tragedy, and he turned that suffering into new life," said the Rev. Earl Mullins, pastor of St. Barnabas.

When failing health forced Mr. Purman to move to the Kansas home of daughter Rachel Workman, Sykesville held a farewell party. More than 500 well-wishers quickly overwhelmed the original location, and the group moved to a larger space.

"He loved to travel, especially on trains, and was constantly going somewhere," said his son, Paul Purman of St. Paul, Minn. "We live all over the country, and he would visit us all."

Mr. Purman's favorite greeting was "blessings abound," and Mr. Mullins plans to end the 11 a.m. memorial service tomorrow at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church on Forsythe Road with a request that everyone offer those words to one another.

Other survivors include another daughter, Eugenia King of Durham, Maine; his former wife, Elaine Breeding of Sykesville; and three grandchildren.

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