Dr. Charlene B. Griffin, a retired Harford Heights Elementary School principal and a former senior warden at her Episcopal church congregation, died of a respiratory ailment Sept. 1 at St. Agnes Hospital. The Catonsville resident was 86.
Born in Baltimore and raised on North Carey Street, she was the daughter of Charles H. Buckner and Beulah Scott.
She was the youngest of five girls in the Buckner family and remained close to her siblings throughout her life. After her graduation from Frederick Douglass High School, she joined two of her sisters at what was known as Coppin State College, the institution where her mother also served as a mentor to students.
After graduation, she immediately joined Baltimore City Schools and became a demonstration teacher and later a senior teacher.
She went on to receive a master’s degree in education from Johns Hopkins University and a doctorate from Temple University.
“She was very special, serious and a dedicated educational administrator,” said a friend, Milton A. Dugger. “She was no-nonsense and a true leader as a principal. She ran a good ship.”
Dr. Griffin served in administrative positions within the school system before being promoted to a principal. She was tapped to become the principal of Harford Heights Elementary, a large school that opened in 1975 at 1919 North Broadway.
Family members said she was instrumental in setting up the gifted and talented program at Harford Heights, where she also established one of the first computer labs.
In later years, Dr. Griffin became an elementary area executive director. She was responsible for promoting instructional programs as well as supervising and evaluating the work of the principals in the school system.
She was eventually appointed associate superintendent of instruction and oversaw all aspects of the instructional programs in the system. She retired in 1989.
“She was a force in education,” said her nephew, Calvin W. Gholston. “She let her life’s work stand for who she was. She was a refined and dignified lady who believed in helping others.”
In 1946, she joined St. James’ Episcopal Church and devoted herself to its parish and members. She became involved with different organizations and projects within the church, including the St. James’ Development Corporation.
Denise Day, a St. James parish member, said Dr. Griffin was appointed as the church’s first female senior warden of the vestry, the highest lay position.
“She had good managerial skills and stepped into the church’s leadership,” said Ms. Day. “She was pleasant and had a good sense of humor. She was always able to crack a joke. She had that dry humor that would keep people in stitches.”
“She shared a vision with our presiding bishop and former, Rector Michael B. Curry, of a building separate from the church that would house the church offices, classrooms, and additional space for community activities,” said Ms. Day.
Her church underwent a complete renovation after lightning hit the building in June 1993 and ignited a fire that caused extensive damage.
“It was a matter of God looking down on us and deciding we needed some changes,” Dr. Griffin said in a 1999 Sun story. “He did not destroy us. He tapped us on the shoulder.”
After years of leading many fundraising activities for the building fund, she was a part of the groundbreaking ceremonies for the parish center. Friends said she was delighted at the burning of the mortgage in 2017.
In September 2021, the parish center was named after her.
On February 14, 1974, she married Charles Kennard Griffin. They were both active at her church, raised Welsh Corgis and enjoyed travel to Aruba, Ocean City, and Massanutten, Virginia.
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“She loved her Welsh Corgis and if they were put in your care, even for a little while, you had to guard them with your life,” said her nephew, Calvin.
In 1990, she became a charter member of the Patapsco River Chapter of the Links, Inc., a social organization. She served as past president and was an alumnus of the organization.
She also served as past president of the St. James Academy, an after-school program for children in the Lafayette Square area of West Baltimore. She also financially underwrote the academy’s activities.
She also worked with the day school of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City.
In 2021, she founded the Buckner Sisters’ Scholarship Fund at Coppin State University.
A memorial Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Sept. 30 at St. James Episcopal Church, 1020 West Lafayette Ave.
Survivors include a nephew, Calvin W. Gholston of Catonsville; and great nieces and great nephews. Her husband, a retired Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone worker, died in 2018.