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Ellen R. Brown

Ellen R. Brown, a retired church secretary and volunteer, who with her husband cared for a historic Northeast Baltimore chapel, died June 29 of complications from dementia at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson.

She was 84.

The daughter of an accountant and a homemaker, Ellen Rothgeb was born and raised in Luray, Va., where she graduated in 1945 from Luray High School.

When she moved to Baltimore to attend Strayer's Business College in 1945, she met Edwin "Bud" Brown, a Marine who later served in Japan.

"They wrote to each other every day he was gone, and when he returned, he visited her in Luray every other weekend, taking a bus or hitchhiking from Baltimore," said a daughter, Barbara Panowitz of Bel Air.

The couple married in 1948 and settled into a home on Catalpha Road in Hamilton, where they lived for the next 52 years and raised their five children.

Mrs. Brown worked from 1948 to 1952 for the Social Security Administration, which at the time was located in the Candler Building in downtown Baltimore.

After her youngest son entered kindergarten, Mrs. Brown returned to work in 1973 when she took a job as church secretary at the old St. John's United Methodist Church on Harford Road in Hamilton, where she served six ministers during her nearly 30-year tenure.

While at St. John's, where she was also a member, Mrs. Brown was a Sunday school teacher and superintendent and was a member of the United Methodist Women. She also made crafts that were sold at church fundraisers.

In addition to her church work, Mrs. Brown was a Cub Scout leader and a Baltimore Sun newspaper distributor, which she operated from her home, overseeing dozens of newspaper carriers, including her children.

Mrs. Brown was a member of a volunteer group called the "Merry Gals," which sponsored several patients at the old Rosewood State Hospital in Owings Mills.

She and her husband also mentored a developmentally disabled couple that allowed them to live independently, her daughter said.

In 1992, Mrs. Brown went to work as church secretary at Zion United Church of Christ, also in Hamilton, which she joined.

"She was my secretary for eight or 10 years, when we were near Lauraville at Harford Road and Iona Terrace," said the Rev. Hugh R. Nash, who is retired from the church, which is now located in Perry Hall.

"A church secretary is a unique and tremendously important job. Ellen was a very meticulous person and could keep a confidence," said Dr. Nash, who shared an office with Mrs. Brown.

"She handled the calls, and at times when people had trouble, she handled them in a very delicate way. She was a compassionate, warm and loving person, and people sensed that. She became a great personal friend," he said.

"Prior to the computers, bulletins and other things had to be done on the old mimeograph machine. I can still see Ellen running the machine, and if she had to make a correction, she had to use correction fluid," said Dr. Nash. "And she did a magnificent job with it."

Dr. Nash also praised Mrs. Brown's typing skills.

"She typed my 120-page dissertation for Drew University without one mistake," he said.

In addition to her church work, Mrs. Brown and her husband were caretakers from 1980 to 2000 of the Taylor Chapel on the grounds of the Mount Pleasant Golf Course.

"It was built by the Quakers in 1776 and torn down in 1853 and rebuilt," said Ms. Panowitz. "It seats 60. When Francis Asbury [the noted 19th-century Methodist Episcopal bishop] came to town, he preached there, and it became affiliated with the United Methodist Church."

The chapel no longer has an active congregation but is used for weddings, funerals and other church-related events.

"The chapel became a center of spiritual joy for many members of St. John's United Methodist Church and continues to be available for use as an ecumenical Christian chapel," said Ms. Panowitz, who took over caretaking duties from her parents.

For many years, the chapel had no electricity.

"She started writing letters to Mayor [William Donald] Schaefer, who later arranged for the electricity to be installed," said Ms. Panowitz, who added that Mayor Schaefer attended the ceremony in 1983 when the chapel was designated a historic landmark.

Mrs. Brown also worked as a volunteer at the old Wesley Home, which is now Springwell, a Mount Washington senior-living community.

When her husband, who had headed the computer department at the state Motor Vehicle Administration, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2000, the couple moved to the Wesley home, where she cared for him until his death in 2003.

"She constantly sought out people 'in worse shape than us,' to visit, console and care for after her husband's death," her daughter said.

Mrs. Brown enjoyed jewelry making, macrame and flower gardening. She also liked baby-sitting neighborhood children, her daughter said.

A celebration of Mrs. Brown's life will be held at 10 a.m. July 19 at Zion United Church of Christ, 8701 Cottington Road, Perry Hall.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Brown is survived by three sons, Paul Brown of Parkville, Bryan Brown of Abingdon and Steve Brown of Colorado Springs, Colo.; another daughter, Sharon Keeler of Bear, Del.; a sister, Caroline Waters of Kimberton, Pa.; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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