Jean M. Yarborough, a community activist and founder of the Park Heights Networking Community Council, died Sunday of cancer at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. She was 79.
For the past 24 years, Mrs. Yarborough worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life for residents - adults and children - of the city's Park Heights neighborhood, which had been her home since 1983, when she moved there from Columbia.
In 1987, she established the Park Heights Networking Community Council, an umbrella organization that worked with other nearby neighborhood associations, and three years later she founded YAMD - Young Adults Making a Difference - an educational program for children and teenagers.
Mrs. Yarborough also had high hopes for the $300 million Park Heights master redevelopment plan and rejoiced when the city appropriated $4 million for it in May.
"Are we hopeful this time? A little bit more, maybe," Mrs. Yarborough told The Sun at the time. "At least there's some money - not lots - but at least there's some money coming into the community."
Creating better educational and employment possibilities for area residents had been another long-term priority.
"Mrs. Yarborough was a very special woman. She was in love with a dream to see Park Heights flourish. She realized a community is more than buildings, businesses, trees and grass, that the most important element are the people," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, who represents the 7th District.
"She also balanced her efforts with the development of children and believed that people had the power to make changes in their lives. That they shouldn't be satisfied with their status and reach for a better life. If she could do that, the community would change for the better," he said.
"While not free of frustrations, she was satisfied, because she saw how things changed - person to person and day by day - and now she leaves her work to others. And we have to wonder how we will replace Mrs. Yarborough and when and where they will come from. Her death is a tremendous loss," Mr. Cummings said. "Her death makes my heart ache."
Even though she had been suffering from cancer, Mrs. Yarborough continued with her life's work.
"She was still active and was working from her hospital bed. People would call and she'd see what she could do," said a son, William Taylor Jr. of Baltimore.
"She didn't break. She just kept rolling along until the day she closed her eyes," said Patricia Rideout Howard, a retired community organizer who worked alongside Mrs. Yarborough for the past 20 years.
"Jean was a dynamic person and an outspoken leader," said Ted Laster, a neighborhood activist and real estate supervisor for the city government.
"She was very capable in working with the black or white, rich or poor, for a common purpose and helping neighborhood groups work together with a unified voice," he said.
Mr. Laster described Mrs. Yarborough as "very easygoing, warm, energetic and maternal, the kind of person people came to for advice."
Recalling Mrs. Yarborough's powers of persuasion, Mrs. Howard said, "When she asked you to do something, it was impossible to turn her down, even if you didn't know anything about what she had asked you to do. She'd always say, 'I'll help you.'
"She was a doer who put her drive where her mouth was. She spent hours walking the hallways of City Hall and Annapolis. She never forgot a person's name. She was charismatic and could pull people together. You could see and feel her love."
"She attended meetings all the time, sometimes two or three a day," said Barbara Scott, former president of the Cylburn Community Action Association.
In addition to establishing YAMD, Mrs. Yarborough attended the organization's weekly meetings held at Sinai Hospital.
"She always encouraged her students to go to college, get a degree and make life better for themselves. Mentoring, empowering and training young people through college tours, conflict mediation, teaching, and promoting good oral and written skills," said Mary F. Kennedy, assistant youth administrator for the program.
In addition, Mrs. Yarborough helped students work on self-esteem issues and find summer employment.
Mrs. Kennedy said 95 percent of the young people who attended the program graduated from high school and a majority went to college.
Despite failing health, Mrs. Yarborough, who lived on Palmer Avenue, insisted on attending meetings.
"She came, hardly able to get her breath, but she came. She came because she dedicated the last 12 years of her life to making a difference in a young person's life," Mrs. Kennedy said.
The former Jean Marie Cromwell was born in Baltimore and was raised in the 1800 block of Mount St. She was a 1946 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School and from 1963 to 1994 was an administrator in the oncology department at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Mrs. Yarborough was an avid reader and jazz fan.
She was a member of The Lord's Church, 5010 Park Heights Ave., where services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow.
Also surviving are her husband of 22 years, Waddell Yarborough; two other sons, Allan Taylor of Baltimore and Michael Taylor of Newark, Del.; a brother, Robert Alston of Woodlawn; a sister, Iris Saunders of Columbia; eight grandchildren; and 16 great-grandchildren. Another son, Eugene Taylor, died in 1990. A marriage to William Taylor Sr. ended in divorce.