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Ruth M. Kirk, long-time delegate, dies

Former state delegate Ruth M. Kirk, who served West Baltimore's 44th District for 28 years, died June 17 of heart failure at her home in Baltimore.

The lifelong West Baltimore resident was 81.

Mrs. Kirk was born Ruth Simmons in Baltimore in 1930, the fifth of eight children. She attended Baltimore City public schools through the ninth grade and received her GED, her family said.

She held several jobs before her political career, including work as a house cleaner and in early childhood education. In 1970, Mrs. Kirk took a job at Dunbar High School in East Baltimore, working as a teacher's aide, an occupation she continued into her tenure in the General Assembly.

She became elected after working as a community advocate. Her daughter Judith Price said she became interested in politics because "she loved to help people. There's nothing she wouldn't do for others."

Del. Hattie N. Harrison, also a Baltimore City Democrat, serving the eastern 45th District since 1973, said she met Mrs. Kirk at Dunbar in the early 1970s before serving in Annapolis. Delegate Harrison had been working as a substitute teacher there.

"We just became good friends," she said. She said they shared the same interest: "serving the community."

Mrs. Kirk married Arthur F. Kirk Jr., a maintenance engineer, in 1959. They had seven children.

"They were a loving couple. They were very close," Delegate Harrison said.

In a 2009 Sun article, Mrs. Kirk spoke about renewing her vows, 50 years after the couple tied the knot.

The ceremony, held at her church, Morning Star Baptist Church of Christ on West Fayette, drew 300 guests. Mrs. Kirk did all the cooking, according the report. Among the guests were former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his wife, Kendel.

When asked if she got along with Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, she told a reporter, "He likes me 'cause I tell him off if he's wrong.

"When he was governor, and I didn't like what his staff said, I'd go upstairs and tell him what I thought, and he liked that," Mrs. Kirk said

Delegate Harrison described Mrs. Kirk as quiet, but not afraid to give her opinions; "She told you how she felt," she said.

While the lifelong Democrat got along with the Republican governor by not holding back her own opinions, she also wasn't shy with fellow Democrats, teasing a much younger challenger and namesake of a political dynasty in Baltimore

In 1994, she ran against Clarence M. Mitchell IV, the son of a former state senator, who was half Mrs. Kirk's age. She was then 64, seeking her fourth term.

"I told the little boy I could spank his little tail," she said in a Sun article at the time.

Del. Melvin L. Stukes, who served in the same district as Mrs. Kirk, recalled her later as outgoing but quiet, "not rambunctious." He added, however, that "you don't want to rile her up."

Delegate Stukes said that whenever someone disagreed with her, they still knew "she was doing it from the heart and for the betterment of the community."

He served with Mrs. Kirk for one term in the House of Delegates but knew her for many years when he was a city councilman.

"It is a definite loss for the community, her family, the city and the state of Maryland," he said of Mrs. Kirk's death. "She was rooted in the community," he said, mentioning her home and her lifelong church.

Delegate Stukes mentioned how each year, Mrs. Kirk helped organize the annual Family Fun Festival held in August in the Franklin Square community, which provided live entertainment and different vendors, but also health information.

Her family plans to hold the event again this year. They said was most proud of that event, as well as a community garden on Fayette Street. Her family said she was especially proud of her work getting a bond bill passed to fund the a new Head Start program.

In a statement, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, "Ruth was particularly engaged and helpful addressing the issues that affect low-income families and seniors in Baltimore."

As a delegate, Mrs. Kirk served on a number of community organizations focused on city neighborhoods, including the Communities Organized To Improve Life (COIL), the Self Help Housing Board, Eastern Star and on the board of Directors for Meals on Wheels, among other organizations.

"She was a respected legislator, who always put the needs of her community first. She will be missed by all," House Speaker Michael E. Busch said in a statement.

Mrs. Kirk's seven terms as a delegate ended when she lost to fellow Democrat Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. last fall.

Outside of politics, Mrs. Kirk loved to cook and bake, especially "her famous crab cakes" and her "mean roast beef," said daughter Judith Price of Aberdeen.

She didn't cook only for her family on holidays, making three turkeys and 10 sweet potato pies to share with anyone in the community that would come over, her family said. She loved to entertain.

Ms. Price said her mother also loved Christmas and would leave her tree up all year long. It is still up at her home.

A public viewing will be from noon to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 22, at 1037 W. Fayette St. The public viewing will continue 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday, June 23, at Morning Star Baptist Church of Christ at 1063 W. Fayette St.

A family viewing hour will be held from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Friday at the church, followed by an 11:30 a.m. funeral and burial at Arbutus Memorial Park.

In addition to her husband of 52 years and Ms. Price, Mrs. Kirk is survived by two other daughters, Karen K. Obayanju of Gahanna, Ohio, and Aline Watson of Baltimore; two sons, George Joseph Kirk of Baltimore and Arthur Kirk III of Pennsylvania; 22 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

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