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C. Benjamin Bates, retired Baltimore County educator and streetcar enthusiast, dies

C. Benjamin Bates' jobs included principal at Back River Elementary School and vice principal at Rosedale Elementary School and Harford Hills Elementary School.
C. Benjamin Bates' jobs included principal at Back River Elementary School and vice principal at Rosedale Elementary School and Harford Hills Elementary School. (Handout/HANDOUT)

C. Benjamin Bates, a retired Baltimore County public schools educator who was a lifelong streetcar enthusiast, died Friday at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center of complications following surgery. The longtime Joppatowne resident was 85.

Charles Benjamin Bates — he never used his first name — son of Charles Bates Jr., a grocer, and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Holden Bates, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on West North Avenue.

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After graduating in 1954 from Baltimore City College, he entered what is now Towson University, and then left when he joined the Army and served with the Transportation Corps at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

After being discharged from the Army, he began teaching at Middlesex Elementary School, where he met and fell in love with a fellow teacher, the former Martha Pearly Copenhaver, whom he married in 1960.

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“Even though he didn’t have a bachelor’s degree, they let him teach school,” said his wife of 60 years. “He later returned to Towson where he received his degree in 1961.”

Mr. Bates briefly served as principal of Back River Elementary School and as vice principal at several other elementary schools, including Rosedale Elementary School. At the time of his 1989 retirement, he was vice principal of Harford Hills Elementary School in Carney.

Mr. Bates’ infatuation with streetcars began in his childhood.

“He was a young child who fell in love with streetcars and it never left him,” said his daughter, Lelia Broderick of Ellicott City. “He traveled to Canada to ride streetcars but never got to Europe.”

Mr. Bates was a longtime active member of the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, where he had served as museum curator and participated in the 20-year restoration of car No. 1050 that began coursing through city streets in the 1890s.

“The spread of development from the city’s core followed the streetcar lines,” he told The Sun in a 1998 interview. “The streetcars allowed people to live where they wanted and be able to get downtown for work and leisure.”

In addition to being an avid rail fan, he was also an HO gauge model railroader who had designed and built a model railroad that folded up into the closet in his son’s bedroom, his daughter said. ”We had a small house.”

Mr. Bates also maintained an interest in genealogy and caring for cats.

He was a member of Salem United Methodist Church in Upper Falls.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, plans for a memorial service that will be broadcast are incomplete.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Bates is survived by two sons, Benjamin Madison Bates of Idlewylde and William Bates of Huntersville, North Carolina, and three grandchildren.

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