Barbara Joan Cantori
Barbara Joan Cantori (Baltimore Sun)

Barbara Joan Cantori, a retired University of Maryland medical research coordinator who was active in Baltimore's anti-highway-building movement, died of pancreatic cancer June 13 at her Hunting Ridge home. She was 81.

Born Barbara Joan Nye in Boston, she was the daughter of Frank Nye, an English-born butler, and his wife, Catherine Goodwin, a maid from Nova Scotia. She grew up on suburban Boston estates owned by the Liggett and Filene families. She was a graduate of Brighton High School.


After her marriage to Louis Joseph Cantori, a political science professor, they lived in Chicago. To help support the family, she typed term and research papers for University of Chicago students. She accompanied her husband to Egypt, where he had a Fulbright Fellowship. Because Mrs. Cantori did not like to fly, they sailed on the SS United States.

After her husband received a post at the University of California Los Angeles, they returned to the U.S. Mrs. Cantori drove a Volkswagen minibus across the country. While living in Culver City, she joined the Westside Fair Housing Council's board and was a tester for housing discrimination.

"One of the highlights she had was meeting Carroll O'Connor and the cast of 'All in the Family,'" said her son, Greg Cantori, who lives in Pasadena. "She hosted an event planning meeting, and the cast came to our home."

Mrs. Cantori moved to her Hunting Ridge home in 1972 when her husband joined the faculty of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. They also had return trips to Morocco and Egypt for his research.

"For 40 years, she was an ambassador for Hunting Ridge," said her son. "She was a gracious hostess. She often opened her door to strangers. Her house was always humming with family and close friends."

She worked to save the neighborhood's elm trees from disease, fought developers from putting a housing development at the edge of Leakin Park and organized an annual block party. She was also a regular participant in the neighborhood's Citizens on Patrol group.

She joined VOLPE — Volunteers Opposed to the Leakin Park Expressway. She attended numerous meetings and rallies. She was part of the resistance movement that caused Interstate 70 to stop at the city line near Woodlawn.

"She was very much an environmentalist," her son said.

She also helped furnish homes for Light Street Housing, a 1993 group that renovated and built about 35 homes for the formerly homeless in South Baltimore.

Mrs. Cantori solicited donations from local furniture retailers.

"She charmed them into giving some very nice pieces," her son said. "She walked in, met the owner and made the pitch. Nothing would stop her."

He added, "She also worked with the residents to decorate their homes and showed them basic housekeeping skills. She was pleased when the program became successful."

In the late 1970s, Mrs. Cantori joined the University of Maryland School of Medicine's department of epidemiology and presentative medicine. She was a coordinator for continuing education in cancer studies and supervised field personnel in health research. She conducted nursing home visits and assisted with longitudinal studies on hypertension in poor city neighborhoods.

As part of her duties, she took blood-pressure readings in the city's public housing complexes.


"Everybody became an instant friend of Joan. She was a warm and giving person," said Reba Cornman, a friend and University of Maryland colleague.

For nearly a decade, she was a tutor at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and brought snacks to school for the students.

"I admired Joan for her engagement and deep care for others," said Heide Grundmann, a longtime Ten Hills activist. "She was feisty and she fought for her neighborhood. She believed in public education and in civic justice. ... I admired her for her courage in fighting her cancer."

Services are private.

In addition to her son, survivors include another son, Eric Cantori of Woodbine; a daughter, Nadia Cantori Ward of Fulton; a sister, Marjorie Tavolieri of Framingham, Mass.; and nine grandchildren. Her husband of 54 years died in 2008.