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AnnaBelle G. Gay, a mathematician who worked at Aberdeen Proving Ground, dies

AnnaBell G. Gay, who was named a Harford County Living Treasure, died July 24 at age 95.
AnnaBell G. Gay, who was named a Harford County Living Treasure, died July 24 at age 95. (HANDOUT)

AnnaBelle G. Gay, a mathematician who worked at Aberdeen Proving Ground during World War II and later was named a Harford County Living Treasure, died July 24 from heart failure at her Aberdeen home.

She was 95.

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"AnnaBelle was unique and ahead of her time," said Sue Swisher of Aberdeen, a longtime friend and fellow parishioner at Grace United Methodist Church. "She wanted to make a lot of headway for women. She spoke out on issues. … She was a role model."

"She was very highly educated — and she'd tell you that. She was opinionated, but everyone loved her," Ms. Swisher said.

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The daughter of Waymon Graham and Maggie Bailey Graham, Annie Belle Graham was born in Anderson, S.C., and raised on her family's farm.

Her first-grade teacher called her AnnaBelle, and she used that name and spelling for the rest of her life, family members said.

After graduating in 1938 from Pendleton High School in Anderson, she attended Winthrop College in Rock Hill, S.C., and waited tables in the college dining room to help pay expenses.

She was a 1942 magna cum laude graduate and class valedictorian and earned degrees in both math and English.

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When Eleanor Roosevelt visited Winthrop in 1940, Mrs. Gay was selected to have lunch with the first lady.

Mrs. Gay planned to become a math teacher, but the college president called her in and explained that a teaching job she expected had been canceled, and that "computers" — the job name given to those who worked on development of data and ballistic fire control information, also know as the "firing tables" — were needed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground's Ballistic Research Laboratory.

"She was among those early women at Aberdeen Proving Ground who worked on the firing tables," Mrs. Swisher said.

"Six to 12 lades, like my mother, came from the South and took jobs at the Aberdeen Proving Ground working on" the data, said a son, Paul Gay of Needham, Mass. "The were called 'computers' and they lived at a rooming bouse that was owned by the Carver family."

"Because they lived there, they were called the 'Carver Girls,' " Mrs. Swisher said.

While at the APG during the war years, she met and fell in love with Herman Paul Gay, who worked there as a ballistics engineer. The couple married in 1945.

After the end of the war, Mrs. Gay became a homemaker and worked in Harford County public schools as a substitute teacher.

In 1951, she and her husband and their children moved into a home in Aberdeen near Carsins Run that had been designed by her brother-in-law and built by his brothers and their father. She lived there for the rest of her life.

For years, Mrs. Gay immersed herself in the educational, religious and civic life of Harford County. She served as a trustee of Harford Community College and a member of the Harford County Board of Education.

She held various offices in Harford County and Maryland PTA organizations including president at the local and county levels. For her work, she was warded honorary life memberships in the state and national PTAs.

Mrs. Gay was a life member of the Susquehanna Lock House Museum, the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum and the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum, as well as the Ripken Museum in Aberdeen.

Since 1952, she had been a member of Grace United Methodist Church in Aberdeen. She volunteered in the Sunday nursery and was an active member of United Methodist Women's Ann Kemper Circle, and served as Circle and District UMW president.

She also chaired the UMC Christian Social Action Group and was the church's lay leader for 12 years.

Mrs. Gay visited the sick and shut-ins and was a life member of the United Methodist Historical Society. She participated in UMC mission trips, including hand-carrying medical supplies to war-torn Mozambique — family members said rebel forces once shot at her small plane as it flew along the coastline.

"She was a people person and when she went to Mozambique, she engaged with the people," Mrs. Swisher said.

Mrs. Gay and her husband were both active in the Aberdeen Lions Club, and helped raise money for many causes through the years. She had also been a board member of the Central Maryland Heart Association.

For all of her years of volunteerism and civic involvement, Mrs. Gay was named a Harford County Living Treasure by the Harford County Council in 2002.

Her husband of 53 years died in 1998.

A celebration of life service will be held at 1 p.m. Aug. 26 at her church, 110 W. Bel Air Ave., Aberdeen.

In addition to her son, Mrs. Gay is survived by another son, John Gay of Bowie; two daughters, Nancy Gay of Berwyn Heights and Martha Gay of Houston; seven grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

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