Joan Muth, retired medical secretary, community volunteer and family matriarch, dies

Joan Muth, a retired medical secretary and matriarch of a large family, died of stroke complications Sunday at Stella Maris Hospice. The Cedarcroft resident was 93.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Waverly, she was the daughter of John Murray Sweeney, a Commercial Credit Co. executive, and his wife, Helen Horton, a homemaker.

She attended the old Saint Bernard Parochial School on Gorsuch Avenue. She was a 1942 graduate of Mount Saint Agnes High School and attended Notre Dame of Maryland University.

“My mother was the kind of person who kept up with her friends from school and was attending reunions until the end of her life,” said her son, Patrick J. Muth of Baltimore. “She was a social person.”

On March 2, 1946, she married Joseph Leo Muth, a salesman with the old Muth Brothers wholesale pharmaceuticals firm. He later sold real estate for the Leslie Sparks firm.

She and her husband initially lived in Walbrook, moved to Blenheim Road, then settled in the Cedarcroft area of Baltimore, where they raised their nine children. She also took in foster children.

As she raised her family, Mrs. Muth began taking part-time jobs that soon expanded and filled her week. She was a medical records secretary for Dr. Joseph W. Zebley and later worked at Towson Medical Associates and at Franklin Square Medical Center.

She was also a dental secretary and, when she had spare time, worked at the old Stewart’s York Road department store.

“My mother liked the social aspects of working, of going out to lunches with the people she worked with,” said her son. “She never missed a beat and did what she had to do to help keep her children in good schools.”

Another son, the Rev. Joseph L. Muth, pastor of St. Matthew’s Roman Catholic Church, said his mother made it a point to visit his parishes and made friends in those congregations. He said she became known at St. Ann’s on Greenmount Avenue, St. Jerome’s on Scott Street and, since 1990, at his church in Northwood.

“She would attend the women’s gatherings, our gay and lesbian group and the Cardinal Shehan School,” said Father Muth. “Our parish has a number of international constituencies, and our Kenyan community made her an elder. For years she drove a family from Sudan who lacked transportation.”

Father Muth also said: “She was outgoing and loved to dance. When she walked into a room, she began talking. She [was] an only child who later had nine children.”

He recalled his mother’s gregarious nature.

“She loved to shop and would soon be engaging the store’s owners in conversation,” Father Muth said. “She was all about relationship building. She never looked her age. Younger women would approach her and admire her style.”

He said his mother liked eating out — at the old Caesar’s Den in Little Italy and at Ryan’s Daughter in Belvedere Square. More recently she enjoyed the Peppermill in Lutherville.

“Her drink was a glass of Chardonnay,” he said.

Beginning in 1987, Mrs. Muth started volunteering at Viva House in Southwest Baltimore.

“From the time we started the soup kitchen, she helped us,” said its co-founder, Brendan Walsh. “She was exemplary, a really good friend to Viva House. She was our role model for growing in years. Her energy was enormous, and she worked here as if she were 20 years old. She served a table of eight, then cleaned it up and served another eight of our guests.”

He said Mrs. Muth remained a Viva House volunteer until two years ago.

“When I went to her 90th birthday party, she was the life of the event,” Mr. Walsh said.

Her family said she remained open-minded.

“For someone of her generation, my grandmother had a very keen and progressive sense of justice, particularly as it relates to race and sexual orientation,” said her grandson, Pat Muth. “She routinely advocated for immigrant communities and other marginalized folks.

“She also was a longtime Colts season ticket holder and was a true die-hard, and eventually felt the same way about the Ravens,” he added.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church, York Road, where she had been a lector, cantor and altar society volunteer. She was also a member of the St. Mary’s Alumni Club and helped arrange its outings.

In addition to her two sons and grandson, survivors include another son, James Muth of Asheville, N.C.; six daughters, Mary Gay Higgins of Essex, Peggy Hogg of Portland, Maine, Teresa Fortkiewicz of Perry Hall, Kathleen Muth of Towson, Regina Trujillo of Baltimore and Cecilia Muth of Asheville; 10 other grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. Her husband of 53 years died in 1999.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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