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Caroline L. ‘Linda’ Panitz, who spent her life devoted to social justice issues, women’s rights, the arts and culture, dies

Caroline "Linda" Panitz "felt that music had healing power," her daughter says.
Caroline "Linda" Panitz "felt that music had healing power," her daughter says. (Handout / HANDOUT)

Caroline L. “Linda” Panitz, who devoted her life to social justice issues, women’s rights, the arts and culture in Baltimore, died Dec. 2 at her home in Roland Park from complications of a fall. She was 81.

“She was a lovely woman and did it all with grace and a lovely smile on her face,” said retired Baltimore City Circuit Judge Ellen M. Heller, a longtime friend. “She was a graceful and elegant woman who worked with Planned Parenthood, was a co-founder of the Enterprise Women’s Network, was on the Baltimore Symphony board and with many other organizations. She was a very inclusive woman who was so knowledgeable when it came to the world.”

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Rheda Becker, a Baltimore philanthropist and BSO Life Director, is another longtime friend.

“What a special person who was so beautiful in every way. She was a tremendously warm and loving friend,” said Ms. Becker, a Guilford resident. “In her work with the BSO she took leadership roles in education and community outreach. She did many wonderful things, and she reached out early to the Black community and getting them to come to concerts.”

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The former Caroline Lucinda Hambleton, daughter of T. Edward Hambleton, a noted off-Broadway producer, and his wife, Caroline Hoysradt Hambleton, was born in Baltimore and raised in Timonium and New York City.

Ms. Panitz, who was known as “Linda,” was a 1957 graduate of Garrison Forest School and attended Connecticut College for Women in New London.

She married Sewell Stansbury Watts III, an investment banker. The couple later divorced.

“She was always passionate about human justice and humanity, and that’s the way she raised us,” said a daughter, Anne Hambleton Watts of Cambridge. “She was passionate about nature and the City of Baltimore, and made us think about race when we were little kids. She was truly altruistic, lived a balanced life, and was driven by her parents to change the world through the arts.”

A descendant of an old Maryland family and born into privilege and society, Ms. Panitz could have devoted her energies to various causes in New York City, but decided to invest her time, energy and philanthropy in trying to make Baltimore better for all of its citizens.

“She was an amazing individual, which manifested itself in so many wonderful attitudes. It’s very rare to find such an individual,” said Shale D. Stiller, a lawyer and partner at DLP Piper LLP who lives in North Roland Park.

“She was very intelligent when it came to history, the arts and literature. She was always enjoyable to be around and liked making jokes and puns,” Mr. Stiller said. “She always was complimenting other people. She never tooted her own horn or sought praise. She never did that.”

Ms. Panitz joined the BSO board in 1964 and for many years chaired its education committee, on which she brought together music teachers and school administrators with BSO musicians and education staff to focus on young audiences.

She played a key role in the creation and implementation of the ArtsExcel program, which included students from some of the most under-resourced communities in the city. She also led the Community Outreach Committee, whose focus was more diverse concert offerings.

“She started Young Associates for young women with children so they could attend concerts,” Ms. Becker said. ”Whatever Linda came up with, people joined right in. She brought enormous enthusiasm and intelligence to them.”

In a statement announcing her death, the BSO quoted a letter from The New York Times in 2000 that said Ms. Panitz “has been a major force behind the Baltimore symphony for the last 36 years.”

In 2000, Ms. Panitz was elected a BSO Life Director.

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“She felt that music had healing power, and she lived with that fire in her heart,” her daughter said.

“She had a love of music of all kinds, and she also loved drama,” said Judge Heller, a North Roland Park resident.

Ms. Panitz was a co-founder of the Enterprising Women’s Network, which sought to improve the quality of life for low-income women and children and advocated for educational enrichment and better housing.

“She had no discriminatory feelings and accepted people as they were,” Mr. Stiller said.

“Linda was a very inclusive woman,” Judge Heller said.

She was also deeply involved with the Open Society Institute Baltimore and Planned Parenthood of Maryland, and volunteered through the years with Theater of Nations, the Panel of American Women, the Baltimore City Fair and the Preakness Cultural Festival.

“Linda was on so many different boards and was interested in so many other activities,” Mr. Stiller said. “She helped so many organizations that had varied purposes and her ideas were so important they adopted many of them. When she got on a board, it was a lucky board, and she took it as a serious responsibility.”

Ms. Panitz enjoyed attending Shriver Hall Concerts with a group that included Mr. Stiller, his wife, Judge Heller, Rheda Becker, Robert Meyerhoff, and Gretchen Redden. They adjourned after the concert to their regular round table at Petit Louis in Roland Park.

“You always wanted her to sit next to you because you knew you’d be engaging in an interesting conversation,” Judge Heller said.

A gourmet cook, Ms. Panitz enjoyed vacationing on Martha’s Vineyar while indulging her passion for Chilmark Chocolates, which were made there. The business closed last year.

“Linda always saw the big picture as well as the little picture,” Ms. Becker said. “Her death is a big loss for anyone who knew her or was a friend of hers.”

Plans for a celebration-of-life gathering to be held in 2021 are incomplete.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by her son, Jonathan Stansbury Watts of Kamakura, Japan; another daughter, Caroline Lucinda Watts of Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; a stepson, Tom Panitz of New York City; three stepdaughters, Susie Fillion of Baltimore, Amy Panitz of Middlebury, Vermont, and Polly Joseph of Arlington, Virginia; two brothers, Mark Hambleton of Timonium and Edward Hambleton of Mount Washington; a sister, Susan Hambleton of New York City; 15 grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

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