Helen H. Quill, a retired seamstress and neighborhood activist, died Friday of cancer at her Southwest Baltimore home. She was 81.
Helen Hawkins was born in a Dolphin Street rowhouse and later moved with her family to a home on Tyson Street.
From her Tyson Street home, she enjoyed watching the elegantly dressed crowd entering the then-segregated Lyric Theatre, said her son, Calvin B. Quill Jr., of Baltimore.
"She loved the notion of making beautiful clothes for others to wear," he said.
After graduating from Frederick Douglass High School in 1944, she went to work as a seamstress for Max Klitenic Tuxedo Rental on West Franklin Street. In 1955, she took a job as a civilian Army seamstress at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, where she fitted soldiers for uniforms and did alterations.
In 1963, she and a co-worker were called to the White House to drape the Abraham Lincoln catafalque that held President John F. Kennedy's casket.
"She received a citation from President Johnson for her excellent work," her son said.
Mrs. Quill retired from the Army on a disability in 1969.
In 1955, she married Calvin B. Quill Sr., an electrician, and the couple settled into a home on Morley Street in Southwest Baltimore, where she lived for the remainder of her life.
Her husband died in 1993.
Mrs. Quill's neighborhood activism began as a teenager when she participated in the Afro-American newspaper's Clean Block Campaign in her Tyson Street neighborhood.
In 1961, she and her husband helped incorporate the St. Joseph's Improvement Association. She later served as president and treasurer of the community group.
The couple befriended their white Morley Street neighbors, Charlie and Helen Beal, and with them founded the Rollers, one of the first African-American Little League baseball teams in the city, in 1963. She also was a founder of the Josettes , an all-girl softball team.
Mrs. Quill later founded the Morley Street Angels, which provided support to the sick, shut-ins and bereaved. She was a co-founder of Camp Concern, a summer camp that provided Southwest Baltimore inner-city youths with trips to Port Deposit to swim and enjoy the outdoors during the summer.
She was the driving force behind the Concrete to Country Activity Club, also for inner-city youths from her neighborhood, which, in addition to providing recreational activities in the country, stressed responsible citizenship.
"First off, she refused to move from her community, and because she stayed, continued to be the community's eyes and ears, and this helped make my job a little easier. I am only one person and need to work with community leaders like Helen on a daily basis," said Helen L. Holton, a Baltimore City Council member who represents the 8th District.
Mrs. Quill opened her house to the politicians she knew could help her achieve her community goals.
"She worked hard and was dedicated to helping her community and there isn't a mayor alive today that didn't sit in her house while she held court," Ms. Holton said. "The magnitude of her voice and community concerns traveled far."
Mrs. Quill pared back her activities because of her cancer, but when it went into remission, she assumed her leadership role with renewed vigor.
"No doubt about it, she was feisty and got the job done. All the politicians knew who Helen Quill was," said Dr. Charlene Cooper Boston, a sister-in-law and former chief executive officer of the Baltimore schools.
"She always had lots of energy and always responded when called. Folks knew she was concerned about them and the welfare of their community and how to make it better," she said.
In an unpublished family memoir, Mrs. Quill wrote, "I like to do what I do, and just do it. I like people to follow what I'm doing but don't reward me. I hate to be rewarded.
"I'm going to be very, very candid. Our black folks look for leaders and what I try to teach children and adults is to be your own leader and be a leader in the right way. I think of all people as people and in order to get along in this world, that is what we have to do. We have to be human beings."
Mrs. Quill, an excellent cook, enjoyed entertaining family and friends and was known for her macaroni and cheese, family members said.
Mrs. Quill had been a member for many years of Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church in West Baltimore and since 1977 had been a communicant of St. Joseph's Passionist Monastery Roman Catholic Church, 3801 Frederick Ave., where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. tomorrow.
Also surviving are another son, Rodney Quill of Baltimore; a brother, the Rev. Lloyd "Butch" Hopkins of Baltimore; a sister, Melvina Hawkins of Wilmington, Del.; and many nieces and nephews.