Esther H. Carpenter, former executive director of the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services and longtime YWCA and Planned Parenthood volunteer, died Sunday of cardiovascular disease at Ginger Cove retirement community in Annapolis. She was 94.
"She was a great lady. When you think of a social worker, Esther was the quintessential social worker. She was a leader during her time working for the county," said former Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens.
"She understood human behavior and cared deeply about people who were in trouble. She was always measured, thoughtful and an advocate for them."
The former Esther Husman was born and raised in Cincinnati and was a 1934 graduate of the University of Cincinnati.
Mrs. Carpenter found her life's work after her father gave her some advice in her youth.
"He said, 'It doesn't matter so much whether you go to church. Just give as much money as you can to charity and live by the Golden Rule,'" she told What's Up? Annapolis Magazine in an interview published last year.
Mrs. Carpenter was a 1936 graduate of New York University's School of Social Work, where she earned a master's degree. She also earned a master of arts degree from New York University.
She began her career in the late 1930s when she moved to Hawaii and took a job with the Family Service Society in Honolulu.
During World War II, she returned to the mainland and became a family service representative in Washington and Pennsylvania for the American Red Cross.
Mrs. Carpenter moved to Annapolis when she joined the Department of Social Services in 1946. She was named the department's executive director in 1955.
During her nearly two decades in that job, Mrs. Carpenter spearheaded many reforms at the agency, including the formation of the Anne Arundel County Council of Community Services.
She was the council's president during its first two years and established the Committee on Services to the Aging, which evolved into the Anne Arundel County Commission on Aging, whose members were appointed by the county commissioners.
Mrs. Carpenter got a permanent support clerk placed in the probation department of Juvenile Court.
She retired in 1975.
She chaired the committee that established Fairfield Nursing Home in Crownsville and helped raise the $50,000 needed to build the home.
Mrs. Carpenter served on the Nursing Center Board in an advisory capacity and testified before the state legislature in support of a bill that provided matching state funds for nursing home construction.
For more than four decades, Mrs. Carpenter volunteered with the YWCA and Planned Parenthood of Anne Arundel County.
She served on the board of the YWCA during the 1950s and in the 1980s. She established the Maggie Boone Moss Endowment Fund, which assured the YWCA of permanent funding for its programs.
Mrs. Carpenter chaired the organization's finance committee and nominating committee and, as a member of its capital campaign committee, helped raise the funds that enabled the YWCA to move into its current building in Arnold.
Other YWCA programs she helped organize included women's employment training, family counseling and programs that combated domestic violence.
As a longtime board member of Planned Parenthood of Anne Arundel County, Mrs. Carpenter raised funds to establish the organization's clinic in Annapolis and was a volunteer escort for clients.
In a 1981 interview with The Sun, Mrs. Carpenter explained Planned Parenthood's mission.
"Planned Parenthood was, is and forever shall be pro-child, pro-family and pro-choice," she said.
Mrs. Carpenter was also active with the Anne Arundel County Commission for Women and had been a board member of Helping Hand.
"She devoted her life to both empowering women and strengthening families," What's Up? Annapolis Magazine said.
Mrs. Carpenter was also engaged in the cultural life of Annapolis through her support of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Colonial Players.
In 2000, she was one of three women feted by County Executive Owens during Women's History Month.
Mrs. Owens described her as an "elegant, gracious, tall and handsome woman."
Mrs. Carpenter was an avid gardener who enjoyed holding azalea garden parties at her home in St. Margaret's. In her 90s, she still maintained a colorful cutting garden.
She had been an active member for nearly 50 years of Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, where she served on every committee, raised money, did social justice work and was the first female president of the congregation's board of trustees.
"Esther was the last matriarch of our congregation and a woman whom everyone respected and looked up to. She was always generous with her time and resources and active to the end of her life," said the Rev. Fredric J. Muir, pastor of the church.
"She had deep-seated beliefs in people and institutions because she knew that's where the power was and where changes would come from," he said.
"She was also one of the last of the New Dealers that I've known, and she embodied Franklin D. Roosevelt's view of what people should be like," Mr. Muir said. "She also had a total lack of fear and wasn't afraid to stand up and present her views."
Mrs. Carpenter's first husband, Frederick Holahan, a professor at the Naval Academy, died in 1961. Her second husband of many years, Dr. Tom Carpenter, who taught English at Anne Arundel Community College, died in 2000.
Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.
She is survived by several nieces and nephews.