Barbara Levy Gradet, former director of Baltimore County’s Department of Social Services and a pillar of the area’s Jewish community, died of a stroke May 8 while on vacation with her husband in New Mexico. She was 69.
“The news of Barbara’s passing has our community in shock and in a state of sadness,” said Marc Terrill, president of The Associated Jewish Federation of Baltimore.
“She had a huge heart,” said Karen Nettler, who worked with Mrs. Gradet for several years. “She would try to figure out any which way to help someone.”
“She was really an extraordinary human being, and I was very fortunate to have found her,” said her husband, Howard Gradet, 71. “She never stopped reminding me of that.”
Born Barbara Levy to Joyce, a secretary, and Morris “Chick” Levy, a business owner, Mrs. Gradet grew up in Park Heights. Her passion for service developed from an early age, going along with her grandmother to volunteer jobs in the Pimlico area. After graduating from Western High School in 1966, she studied social work at the University of Maryland’s flagship campus.
As a student there, 50 years ago, she met Mr. Gradet, who wrote for the student newspaper. For their first date, they had planned to go see a play in Washington, D.C., but changed plans after riots following Martin Luther King Jr.’s death overtook the city. They saw a movie near campus instead.
Two years later, the couple married and settled in Rock Glen, later moving to Reisterstown. They had two children, Regan Chagal of Alameda, Calif., and Alexander Gradet of Los Angeles.
Mrs. Gradet began her career as a clinical social worker, later moving into administrative fields. She obtained her master’s in social work in 1979 and in 1988, became director of Baltimore County’s Department of Aging. Ten years later, she was appointed director of the Department of Social Services. Her time there won praise from state and county officials when she resigned in 2004.
“I think everybody that knew Barbara certainly admired and respected her,” said Ms. Nettler, who had an office next door to Mrs. Gradet’s for over a decade while the two worked for Jewish Community Services. “She actually made working fun.”
In 2004, she joined Jewish Family Services of Baltimore, which later became known as the Jewish Community Services. There, she oversaw the smooth consolidation of four subsidiary groups, a situation that was “very anxiety producing for a lot of people,” said Ms. Nettler. “I don’t know that anybody could have pulled it off as well as Barbara did.”
Though Mrs. Gradet was committed to her work, says Ms. Nettler, she embraced time off. “We took our vacations seriously.”
Mrs. Gradet and her husband had a time share in Hawaii, and traveled extensively, visiting 22 countries on six continents.
Aside from work and travel, Mrs. Gradet was an extra — or supernumerary — in several productions of the Baltimore Opera, along with her husband and children. According to a 1994 article in The Sun, she donned 10 pounds of synthetic fur for a production of “Norma."
"I'm not a bungee jumper," Mrs. Gradet told a Sun reporter. "This is exciting to me.”
She also enjoyed singing and performed for eight years with a group called the Showtime Singers — mostly seniors who performed monthly in nursing home facilities in the area.
“She knew how to get a lot out of life,” said Ms. Nettler. “I wish she had many more years.”
Mrs. Gradet and her husband had recently moved to Los Angeles to be closer to their family. They lived in a house with a pool, and her grandchildren were frequent visitors. As the kids splashed in the pool, surrounded by palm trees, Mrs. Gradet would turn to her husband and ask, “How did I get to be this lucky?”
“She loved every minute she was there,” said Ms. Nettler. “Her grandchildren were the light of her life.”
She also enjoyed cooking, preparing pancakes for her grandson, Elliott, for his weekly sleepovers. Now, Mr. Gradet said he must learn to make them himself. “Traditions continue,” he said.