Hattie G. Cooper

The Baltimore Sun

Hattie Genevieve Cooper, a former licensed day care provider, volunteer and longtime East Towson resident, died Thursday of complications from an infection at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. She was 92.

Hattie Genevieve Norris was born in her parents' Railroad Avenue home in East Towson, one of 14 children, and spent her early years living on the grounds of Hampton Mansion before returning to Railroad Avenue.

"Her father was a dairyman at Hampton Mansion, and she lived in the former slave quarters," said Louis S. Diggs, author of Since the Beginning: African American Communities in Towson.

She attended the segregated Towson School until the fifth grade, when she left to become a $2-a-day domestic worker.

During the 1920s, she was a cafeteria worker at the Hester Nursing Home on Joppa Road, and cared for foster children in her Railroad Avenue home during the 1930s.

Mrs. Cooper, who was known as Genevieve, attended night school at Dunbar High School, planning to earn her General Educational Development diploma.

After obtaining a driver's license in the 1940s, she worked chauffeuring workers to Edgewood Arsenal.

In the 1960s, she became one of the first black woman school bus drivers in Baltimore County, said her granddaughter, Ottawanna Shanelle Cooper of Odenton, a T. Rowe Price senior portfolio accountant. "Her daily route took her through Towson, Lutherville and Timonium," Miss Cooper said.

In 1972, she married Arthur McKinley Cooper, and during the 1970s, she operated a day care facility in her home while working evenings with her husband, who owned and operated a janitorial cleaning service. He died in 1995.

After the death in 1980 of her only child, Genevieve Louise Bell, she legally adopted and took on the task of raising her granddaughter, her only grandchild.

"On meager resources, she managed to send me to Maryvale Preparatory School and Loyola College," Miss Cooper said. "I never had school loans to pay back, and she did this all with a fifth-grade education."

Mrs. Cooper remained fiercely loyal to her East Towson neighborhood and continued living independently in her Railroad Avenue home until her death.

"Genevieve was a nice lady who was very supportive of the neighborhood association and attended all of our meetings. She was respected and well-liked in the community and helped where she could," said Adelaide Bentley, president of the Northeast Towson Improvement Association.

"Last year, she rode in a convertible in the Towson Fourth of July parade, and at our 60th anniversary celebration that was held in January at the Carver Center, she had a ball and really enjoyed herself," Mrs. Bentley said.

When Mr. Diggs was researching his book, he turned to Mrs. Cooper for her recollections of living for more than eight decades in the community that is east of York Road and was founded in the 1850s by freed slaves who had worked at the Ridgely Estate and Hampton Mansion.

"She really cared that the history of East Towson be documented, and she told such wonderful stories. She was a great storyteller," Mr. Diggs said, yesterday. "She was extremely well-liked and just a friendly kind of person who would help anybody."

Since 1929, Mrs. Cooper had been a member of St. James African United Methodist Church on Jefferson Avenue in East Towson, and was the church's oldest member.

"She lived long and she lived strong, and I think she's the last of her community's oldest residents," said the Rev. Osborne Robinson Jr., pastor of St. James.

"She remained active in the church until about three months ago. You'd see her going all over the place driving her small white Honda. She was everywhere and had such vitality," he said. "Her death is a big loss."

Mrs. Cooper participated in the church's senior ministry, visiting the sick and shut-ins.

She was also a longtime volunteer with Pets on Wheels and enjoyed visiting area nursing homes with Gus, her black Labrador retriever.

Mrs. Cooper was an avid traveler. She also enjoyed tenpin bowling and dancing.

"She danced at her 90th birthday party," her granddaughter said.

At her 90th birthday party, Mrs. Cooper told well-wishers, "I've had some good days and some bad days, but God has been good to me," her granddaughter recalled. Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at her church, 415 Jefferson Ave.

Also surviving are two sisters, Mary Grace Stills of Towson and Martha Louise Wilson of Baltimore; and many nieces and nephews. An earlier marriage to William Bell ended in divorce.


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