Mary D. Eddinger, a retired educator who had been a learning specialist and resource teacher at Roland Park Country School for nearly three decades, died Tuesday of dementia at Union Memorial Hospital. She was 76.
"Mary was the most loving and kind teacher I've probably ever known. She was just wonderful," said Jean Waller Brune, who has been head of school at Roland Park Country since 1992.
"She worked with kids who needed help in reading and study skills, and she helped them develop confidence in themselves," said Ms. Brune. "She had an optimistic outlook and was a kind spirit."
The daughter of Louis F. Conti, an American Telephone & Telegraph civil engineer, and Laura Akers Conti, a Wall Street secretary, Mary Duncan Conti was born in New York City. She was raised in Forest Hills on Long Island and in Allentown, Pa.
After graduating from Allentown High School in 1954, she attended the Ursuline College of New Rochelle in New Rochelle, N.Y., from which she graduated in 1958 with a bachelor's degree in English literature.
In 1977, she earned a master's degree in education from the Johns Hopkins University, where she studied psychology with Dr. Leo Kanner, the founder of child psychiatry, who identified the disorder and coined the term "autism."
She began her teaching career in 1958 as a lower-school teacher in the East Penn School District of Pennsylvania.
In 1960, she married John W. "Jack" Eddinger. They moved to Baltimore in 1962 when he joined The Evening Sun as a reporter.
"I met her when she was 19. I was serving in the Army and a military friend suggested I meet her. He said she was an English major and like me, liked writing," recalled Mr. Eddinger, who later worked for the old Washington Star and retired in 2000 from Kiplinger's, where he was in public relations.
"We really hit it off on the first date. When she walked downstairs wearing a beautiful black dress, that was it for me, and she had the greatest legs you ever saw," said Mr. Eddinger.
Mrs. Eddinger began teaching in Baltimore City public schools in 1963, first at Northwood Elementary and later at Waverly Elementary.
In 1980, she joined the faculty of Roland Park Country School, where she was a reading and learning specialist in the middle and lower schools.
"We worked together at Roland Park for nearly 20 years, until I left in 1999, and we remained special friends," said Loretta Prevas Siotka, who taught Spanish and French.
"She was the most compassionate, loving, caring person that I've ever met," said Ms. Siotka, who now lives in Longs, S.C. "She loved people, animals, art, literature and music. She was a person who walked every day and was very health conscious about what she ate. She was just a delight."
When Mrs. Eddinger retired from Roland Park Country in 2007, the private school endowed the Mary Duncan Eddinger Award. The award is given annually to the faculty member who "exemplifies the tradition and commitment of Mrs. Eddinger's unwavering belief in the importance of strong reading skills and comprehension … the hallmark of her career at RPCS."
In addition to full-time teaching, Mrs. Eddinger was a founding member of REACH — Remedial Education and Counseling Help — a program aimed at helping children from underprivileged families in Baltimore learn to read.
The longtime Homeland resident was also a private tutor in reading and general studies who helped many students with their academic and higher educational pursuits.
"She was my first tutor in reading and math after I was diagnosed as a young boy with dyslexia. She was my tutor from fifth grade to seventh grade," said Del. Keiffer Mitchell Jr., a Baltimore Democrat. "I still use the strategies she gave me to read, and that is her lasting legacy."
Every Wednesday, Mr. Mitchell took the No. 11 bus to Mrs. Eddinger's home.
"In those days, school was half-day on Wednesdays, and I'd take the bus to Homeland and get off and walk up Tunbridge Road," recalled Mr. Mitchell.
"The first thing she did prior to tutoring me, was feed me. She had her refrigerator stocked with good stuff like iced tea, lemonade and food left over from the night before. She'd give me cookies and other snacks," said Mr. Mitchell, with a laugh.
And when it came time for her students to complete assignments before each tutoring session, Mrs. Eddinger was no pushover.
"If you didn't do the assignment, you'd hear about it. There were many times when I was busy cramming on the No. 11 bus," said Mr. Mitchell.
"What she gave her students was confidence. She was a very compassionate person, and it's rare that you see someone like Mrs. Eddinger. She really cared about her students," he said. "She was always writing me letters and notes of encouragement to the legislature."
"She always stayed in touch with the students she had taught, even after they had grown up," said Ms. Brune.
Mrs. Eddinger was an accomplished Italian cook, said her husband, and was deeply proud of her Italian heritage. She traveled frequently to Sicily and the Lake District.
She studied Italian in the Roland Park Country School's Kaleidoscope program, which offers continuing education courses.
"She was in my 1997 Italian class. ... She was going to Sicily and wanted to study Italian," said Deborah H. Patterson, a 1974 graduate of RPCS who is an artist and owner of the 834 On the Avenue Gallery in Hampden.
"We formed a group and we all remained close friends. As a person, Mary was just delightful. She was fun-loving, kind, happy and spirited. I loved her dearly," said Ms. Patterson. "She was also a great bocce player and played with our group."
Mrs. Eddinger was an avid swimmer and tennis player, and also liked hiking, ice skating, skiing and canoeing.
She maintained a lifelong interest in the theater, and spent time each summer at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, as well as the Stratford Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Ontario.
Mrs. Eddinger was a communicant of St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church in downtown Baltimore.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St.
In addition to her husband, Mrs. Eddinger is survived by a son, John Duncan Eddinger of Baltimore; two daughters, Julia A. Eddinger and Jennifer E. Eddinger, both of Baltimore; and two grandsons. Another daughter, Mary Elizabeth Eddinger, died in infancy.