Patricia T. "Patty" Rouse

Patricia T. "Patty" Rouse, who with her late husband, Columbia developer James W. Rouse, co-founded Enterprise Community Partners Inc. and who devoted her life to making sure that decent and affordable housing was accessible to all Americans, died Monday afternoon from complications of Alzheimer's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at Vantage House in Columbia.

The Wilde Lake resident was 85.

"Patty Rouse was a visionary, who, along with her husband, saw a time when all Americans would have a home they could call their own," Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, said in a statement released Tuesday.

"The goal she and Jim sought in creating Columbia, and in all their housing work, was not just achieving their dream, but of allowing others to live the American dream," he said.

The former Patricia Traugott was born and raised in Norfolk, Va., where in her youth she volunteered at a local hospital and kept watch for enemy airplanes during World War II.

After high school, she earned a bachelor's degree in British history in 1948 from Sweet Briar College. The next year, she married John F. Rixey Sr., a lawyer. They divorced in 1973.

It was a tennis game that brought Mrs. Rouse together with her future husband.

In 1973, she was working as president of the Health-Welfare Recreation Planning Council of Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Eastern Chesapeake, Va., and studying for a graduate degree in urban affairs at Old Dominion University.

In June of that year, Mr. Rouse was visiting friends in Norfolk when they called her and asked if she wanted to play tennis with their house guest. It was near the end of the semester and she was engaged with her studies.

"I said, 'I can't play tennis with anybody,'" Mrs. Rouse told The Baltimore Sun in a 1997 interview. "I have a take-home exam in public policy analysis and implementation."

The next day, she agreed to be Mr. Rouse's doubles partner.

"They saw each other over the course of the next year and discovered they had a great deal in common, despite an age difference of 12 years. Both were divorced parents. Both had a strong faith in God," observed the newspaper. "Both were concerned about the plight of American cities."

They married in 1974 and settled into their Wilde Lake home the next year. When her husband stepped down as chairman of the Rouse Co. in 1979, he was able to concentrate his efforts on building affordable housing for Americans.

After donating $1 million, he and Mrs. Rouse started the Enterprise Foundation, a nationwide nonprofit organization that used money from two profit-making subsidiaries to finance, rehabilitate and build housing for the needy in 30 cities across the country.

Their vision was that the Enterprise Foundation would also be an advocate for the urban poor.

Mr. Rouse explained in an interview with The New York Times that his work with the foundation was "by far the most important work" of his life.

While Mrs. Rouse was a co-founder and board member, she didn't immediately work for the foundation. It was in 1985 that she told her husband she wished to have a greater role with the foundation.

"I could see things that needed to be done. I said, 'I don't think you're using me the way you should.' The next week he came back and said, 'There's an office for you,'" Mrs. Rouse told The Sun in the 1997 interview.

It was Mrs. Rouse's entry into the daily operation of the Enterprise Foundation. "I wasn't equal to him," she explained in the interview. "But we were working together."

Her husband dubbed her "the Connector" for her ability to keep everyone in constant communication on various projects.

Locally, the couple's model project focused on the city's Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, composed of 72 square blocks and defined by poverty, crime and hopelessness.

They hoped that through their foundation, they would be able to rehabilitate existing homes, generate jobs, put an end to crime, and improve schools and health, by joining in partnerships with federal, local and private agencies.

Mrs. Rouse had served as vice president and secretary and was a lifetime member of the board of trustees of the Enterprise Foundation, which since 2005 has been known as Enterprise Community Partners Inc.

Since its founding 30 years ago, Enterprise has raised and invested more than $11 billion in equity, grants and loans to help build or preserve nearly 300,000 affordable rental and for-sale homes that resulted in vibrant communities.

"I have been touched by the outpouring of notes and calls because Patty touched so many people," said Terri Ludwig, president and CEO of Enterprise Community Partners Inc.

"She had a giant heart and she used it to help the poor and eliminate poverty. And as we celebrate our 30th year of growing, we remember that she was a leader in this and made such an impact on others," said Ms. Ludwig. "And it's inspiring that we continue to embrace her bold vision."

Despite failing health in recent years, Mrs. Rouse remained interested in the work and direction of the foundation, said Charlie Werhane, president and CEO of Enterprise Community Investment.

"She thought of the Enterprise Foundation and its employees as family. She wanted to focus them on helping the poor," said Mr. Werhane. "She wanted them to try harder. She was a great motivator and she wanted them to remember why they were there."

Bill Frey, senior vice president of innovation and strategy at the foundation, has worked with and been a friend of Mrs. Rouse's for 25 years.

"She came into the office every day. She was truly intelligent and cared about folks. She cared about carrying on Jim's mission in making a difference with the poor," said Mr. Frey.

"She just didn't sit in the office, she went out and visited and talked to the tenants. She wanted them to know how important everyone who lived in those buildings was," he said.

After her husband's death in 1996, Mrs. Rouse remained in the couple's home, where she continued her foundation work while serving on the boards of numerous organizations such as the National Civilian Community Corps and National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing. She had been a founding member of the President's Circle of Habitat of Humanity.

Mrs. Rouse was a lifetime communicant of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Norfolk. Family members said she enjoyed attending interfaith services in Columbia.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Christ Episcopal Church, 6800 Oakland Mills Road, Columbia.

Surviving are two sons, John F. Rixey Jr. of Annapolis and J. Barbour Rixey of Virginia Beach, Va.; a daughter, Maria Rixey Gamper of Baltimore; two stepsons, James W. Rouse of Upperco and Winstead Rouse of Roland Park; and nine grandchildren.

Another son, Thomas C. Rixey, died in 1986. Her stepdaughter, Lydia Robinson Rouse Norton, died in 1997.

Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Gunts contributed to this article.

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