Grace H. Morris, a former vice president of Southcomb Inc., the legendary East Baltimore Street haberdashery, died of congestive heart failure Thursday at the Edenwald retirement community in Towson. She was 96.
Born Grace Helen Brown in Baltimore, she was raised near Clifton Park. Her father, C. Frank Brown, worked for William F. Southcomb, who had established the business in 1885.
Mr. Brown purchased the business, which had relocated to the 100 block of E. Baltimore St. after the fire in 1904, in 1931 after the death of its founder.
"She was born naturally on May 15 - Straw Hat Day - in an era before induced labor. What are the chances of that?" said a niece, Cynthia B. Goetz of Sparks.
Baltimore was once the straw hat capital of the United States, employing 3,000 workers and producing 3 million straw hats annually at its height in the 1920s. Three local firms located near Paca, Redwood and Lombard streets - Brigham-Hopkins Co., M.S. Levy & Co. Inc., and Townsend-Grace Co. - dominated the business.
Townsend-Grace was founded by S.C. Townsend and John W. Grace. "Her father was very close friends with the owners of the Townsend-Grace Co., so he named my father after Mr. Townsend and my aunt after Mr. Grace," Mrs. Goetz said.
A 1929 graduate of Eastern High School, Mrs. Morris was an office worker during the early 1930s.
In 1936, she married Albert H. Morris, and after the death of her father in 1945, the couple took over ownership and operation of Southcomb. Mrs. Morris continued overseeing the daily operation of the store for a year after the death in 1976 of her husband, who had been its president.
"The store has been a bastion of conservatism in the 100 block of E. Baltimore St. since the block was rebuilt after the 1904 fire," wrote a News American reporter at its closing in 1977.
"Its leaded glass show windows had revealed sensible leather shoes, narrow ties, a wide range of Stetsons and Borsalinos, a range of summer straws - all unaffected by the whimsy of modern fashion," the article continued.
Mrs. Morris and her husband enjoyed fishing and exploring the Chesapeake Bay aboard their cabin cruiser, the Mad Hatter.
Mrs. Morris, who had lived on Weatherbee Road in Towson for more than 50 years, moved to the retirement community in 2004.
She was a longtime member of Towson United Methodist Church and the Boumi Temple, where she had been a member of the Daughters of the Nile, Zitta Temple No. 27, Bou-Tem-Sci Club and Yak-Remteh Corps.
Services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.
Also surviving are another niece, Carolyn B. Rush of Roland Park; and several great-nieces and great-nephews.