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Emma J. Hawkins

The Baltimore Sun

Emma J. Hawkins, a member of the French Resistance and French army during World War II who later became a Howard County schoolteacher, died Aug. 1 of complications from Alzheimer's disease at Lookabout Manor, a Westminster assisted-living facility. The longtime Ellicott City resident was 92.

Emma Josephine Guillot was born and raised in Grenoble, France.

"Her father was an engineer and math professor who believed in education. She graduated from colleges and universities in France and Spain as well as an art school," said her son, Paul B. Hawkins of Finksburg, a retired Baltimore police officer.

"She studied languages and was proficient in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Russian. Her father sent her to the various countries to live while she learned the language," he said.

With the fall of France in 1940, Mrs. Hawkins joined the French Resistance in Grenoble.

"Her family lived in a typical French house with a tall stone wall around it. Her father loved to garden, and one day the Nazis came looking for her father. He had been gardening and had on a dirty apron," Mr. Hawkins said.

"He pretended to be the gardener, and they bought it. As they were leaving, my mother came through another gate and asked who they were looking for," her son said. "When they were gone, they began laughing, because both of them were in the Resistance in Grenoble and didn't know it because they were in different units," he said.

According to her son, Mrs. Hawkins performed many duties, such as delivering messages hidden in the handlebars of her bicycle, sabotage and helping downed Allied pilots and crews escape over the Alps to freedom in Switzerland.

"She also helped French Jews escape. She said the Nazis were always going from house to house trying to find them. She was very lucky and never got arrested," he said.

During the Nazi occupation of Grenoble, there were food and fuel shortages.

"There were no streetlights on at night, and risking death, they would go out and climb under a barbed-wire fence that the Nazis had placed around a field to dig up potatoes," her son said.

"Another time, they went out on a freezing-cold night looking for pieces of coal that had fallen off wagons and trucks. That's how desperate conditions had become," he said. "What they didn't know, given the dark, they were picking up frozen horse dung, and once they threw it in the stove, it smelled so bad."

As France was being liberated near the end of the war, Mr. Hawkins said, former Resistance units became part of the Free French army.

"She was given the rank of lieutenant and, because of her linguistic abilities, worked in prisoner exchanges and graves registration," he said.

"A lot had happened to her during those years that she wouldn't talk about. She did things she had to do, and I'm sure some of them were unpleasant," Mr. Hawkins said. "She may have even killed someone, and of course, that's something that you have to live with for the rest of your life."

During the war, she met and fell in love with an American Army lieutenant, Orington Hazen "Jack" Hawkins, and married him in 1949.

A career officer, Lieutenant Colonel Hawkins retired from the Army in 1963, and the next year, the couple moved to Ellicott City. He died in 1988.

Mrs. Hawkins -- who did not return to France until she was 80 -- became a U.S. citizen in 1952.

From 1966 to 1986, when she retired, she was a language teacher at Glenelg Country School.

For many years, Mrs. Hawkins was a Red Cross volunteer in the hospital at Fort Meade.

She was an accomplished watercolorist who also painted landscapes in oils. She also liked gardening and cooking.

"Freedom was extremely important to her, and being a U.S. citizen meant a great deal. She always said that the U.S. was the very symbol of freedom," Mr. Hawkins said.

Services were private.

Also surviving is a grandson, John P. Hawkins of Finksburg. An earlier marriage to Jean Lucien Aubert ended in divorce.

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