Dorothy J. Stein

The Baltimore Sun

Dorothy J. Stein, a homemaker who led an inspirational life after a medical condition left her a paraplegic in 1953, died of multiple organ failure Feb. 11 at a Quarryville, Pa., retirement community. The former longtime Rosedale resident was 87.

Dorothy June Harrison, the daughter of a boatbuilder and one of 10 children, was born in Baltimore and raised in a Castle Street rowhouse.

When her father fell ill with pleurisy during World War II, her mother went to work as a crane operator at Bethlehem Steel Corp's Sparrows Point plant.

"This is a family of tough women," said a granddaughter, Rebecca J. Ritzel, a freelance writer who lives in Alexandria, Va. "When she retired at 66, she was the company's last wartime crane operator."

After graduating from Eastern High School in 1939, Mrs. Stein married Nelson L. Stein, a bookkeeper and minor-league baseball player, the next year.

On Christmas Eve in 1953, Mrs. Stein, who was expecting her fourth child, suffered a spinal blood clot that left her paralyzed from the waist down.

"She was 32 years old, and two months later, gave birth to a healthy daughter at Sinai Hospital," Ms. Ritzel said.

Mrs. Stein then spent six months in a rehabilitation center in New York City before she returned to her Rosedale home.

"With the aid of her husband, who was an incredible caregiver, she was able to raise her four daughters from her wheelchair," Ms. Ritzel said.

She worked as a seamstress from her home and for years was an active member of Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Baltimore. She had been a founding member of Hazelwood Baptist Church and a member of Middle River Baptist Church.

Mrs. Stein made clothes for herself and family members. She particularly liked making wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses.

"She did not let her situation get her down. It was her Christian faith, she'd tell you," her granddaughter said. "She was a very inspiring and hardworking person."

The Rev. Thomas E. Nicholas, former pastor of Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Baltimore, is now pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ephrata, Pa.

"Dorothy had a beautiful grace about her and a pleasantness that was always there. She had a sharp mind, quick wit and a wonderful personality," Mr. Nicholas said.

"She was the kind of person who would never give up and had so much courage. She cooked, sewed and taught Sunday school," he said.

"Some people feel uncomfortable talking to someone who is in a wheelchair, but she helped them overcome that. She looked at herself as just another normal human being who happened to be in a wheelchair because of a medical condition," he said. "In this, she became our teacher."

Mr. Nicholas said that all human beings are challenged in one way or another.

"Dorothy taught quiet acceptance, and when things happened, it was God's purpose, and her purpose was to never complain," he said.

Mr. Nicholas said that long before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, church members built a concrete disability ramp so Mrs. Stein could have easy access to the church's sanctuary.

"Every Sunday, there was Dorothy in the center aisle. That was her place," Mr. Nicholas said.

"It was a marvelous life and, given what she went through, to see how much joy and dignity she had," Mr. Nicholas said. "She had love for both people and God."

After her husband's death in 2003, Mrs. Stein moved to the Quarryville retirement home, where she continued sewing, reading and playing Scrabble.

"Doctors said she lived a remarkably long life for a paraplegic. According to the American Paraplegia Society, even today, patients who suffer severe spinal cord injuries at the age of 30 have a life expectancy of 37 years," Ms. Ritzel said.

"Dr. Lawrence C. Vogel, a physician spokesman for the society, said she lived twice as long as most patients who sustained a spinal cord injury in the 1950s," she said.

Services were Monday.

Also surviving are Mrs. Stein's four daughters, June L. Johnson of Cumming, Ga., Linda M. Civitarese of Freeland, Dorothy Jane McKenny of White Hall and Susan L. Ritzel of Forest Hill; two brothers, Herbert Harrison of Brooklyn and Jack Harrison of Hudson, Fla.; three sisters, Jane Smick of Ipswich, Mass., Esther Scowden of Pocono, Pa., and Nancy Raymond of White Marsh; eight other grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

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