Anne Helms Irons, a social worker who held starring roles in local community theater productions for nearly 50 years, died Nov. 28 of heart disease at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. She was 83.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Guilford, she was the daughter of Dr. Samuel T. Helms, medical director of the Emerson Drug Co., and Selina Clair Helms.
She was a 1949 graduate of Roland Park Country School and earned a bachelor's degree in theater from the College of William and Mary in 1953. She attended the University of Maryland School of Social Work, graduating in 1969.
After working as a caseworker with children in the foster care system in Baltimore County, Ms. Irons became an administrator and executive in what was then known as the state Social Services Administration. She retired as chief of the administration's adult services division.
But acting was her passion, friends and family said.
While a student at William and Mary, she spent her summers acting in "The Common Glory," an annual production in Williamsburg depicting the American Revolution. The event drew about 80,000 attendees each summer, according to the college.
She briefly went to New York to pursue acting, returning to Baltimore in 1955 and beginning a 40-year career in social work, said her daughter, Paula Irons Moore of Baltimore. But she continued to act in local theatre.
"She did shows constantly, even while she was a social worker," Moore said.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, she was an ingenue of local theater, playing the title roles in "Gigi" and "Anna Christie" at the Vagabond Arena Theater. She starred as Eliza Doolittle in the Baltimore Actors' Theater's production of "Pygmalion."
A Baltimore Sun reviewer of "Arms and the Man" at Center Stage in 1963 said Ms. Irons "radiated" a spirit of impudence in playing a maid seeking to improve her social status.
She later frequently appeared in productions of the Theater Hopkins, such as "The Circle" in 1981. A Sun review of the play said Ms. Irons "gives us a Lady Kitty who is a wonderful let-down."
"She kind of sets the gold standard for acting in community theater," said Michal Makarovich, who said he directed Ms. Irons in various productions. "I think of all the actors in the last half-century in Baltimore, Anne would be near the very top of the list."
Though she was highly regarded in the local theater community, Ms. Irons started acting at a time when there were few opportunities to make a living as an actress, said Rhea Feikin, a local television personality who now hosts "Artworks" on Maryland Public Television.
"I think she was maybe one of the most talented actresses that ever came out of Baltimore," said Feikin, who performed alongside Ms. Irons in "The Common Glory" and later in Baltimore. "She was as good as any famous actress; she just never went that way."
Ms. Irons continued acting into her early 70s, Moore said. Makarovich recalled one of her last roles was Lady Bracknell in "Ernest in Love" a musical adaptation of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest."
Ms. Irons was an avid bridge player, a former member of the vestry at St. David's Church in Roland Park and was an active member of the William and Mary alumni association.
Friends and family may call from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. or from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. today at Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home, 6500 York Rd. Services are at 10 a.m. Tuesday at St. David's Church, 4700 Roland Ave.
In addition to her daughter, survivors include a sister, Jane Blaustein of Baltimore; two brothers, Samuel Helms of Baltimore and Christopher Lee Helms of Tucson, Ariz.; and a grandson, Nicholas Helms Moore of Philadelphia.
Baltimore Sun research librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.