Christine Bryan, a former Baltimore City teacher and in her retirement an actress, died Feb. 18. She was 98.
Christine Bryan, a former Baltimore City teacher and in her retirement an actress, died Feb. 18. She was 98. (Handout photo)

Christine Othello Dantley Bryan, a retired physical education teacher and active church volunteer who later in her career performed with Arena Players, died of cardiac disease Feb. 18 at Gilchrist Center in Towson. She was 98.

A resident of the Walbrook area of West Baltimore since 1956, Mrs. Bryan had taught physical education at Dunbar High School and the former Clifton Park Junior High School and was known for organizing students to work on school clean up and improvement projects, family members said.

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"She would gather groups of students for school beautification" projects, said her daughter, Mamie Bryan, of Philadelphia. "She really was into helping students develop pride and a sense of responsibility in their school environments."

Bryan was born in Eastman, Ga., to Lincoln Dantley, a contractor who built houses, and Sallie Renfroe Dantley, a homemaker. She and five siblings grew up across the street from Fort Valley (Ga.) State College, and she graduated from Fort Valley Normal and Industrial School.

In 1939, she earned a bachelor's degree in physical education and English from Hampton Institute in Virginia. There she met Hammond David Bryan, and the couple married the day after graduation.

They settled in Beaufort, S.C., and later moved to Charleston, where she taught physical eduction at Burke High School and coached girls varsity basketball, softball and tennis.

Seeking more job security and a chance to raise their children near Mrs. Bryan's siblings, the family moved to Baltimore in 1956. She worked for many years as an "itinerant" teacher for Baltimore public schools, traveling throughout the system to fill in for teachers in a variety of subjects at the request of school principals. She later taught physical education full-time, first at Dunbar High School, then at Clifton Park Junior High School.

During a December 1974 meeting at Clifton about a spate of violence at city schools, Mrs. Bryan was among the those who complained to school board members that teachers lacked the ability to discipline students.

"Our children are looking bad in these halls with coats and hats, and rollers and plaits," Mrs. Bryan said, according to a Baltimore Sun article. "But if I go up to a child in the cafeteria and say, 'Son, take your hat off,' and then take it off for him, I could be up before the school board for touching a child.

"But I ask you, how do I teach for 27 years without touching a child?" The Sun reported Bryan as saying. "Some of them never do get touched, and all they need to get them to turn around is for someone to put their hands on them and turn them around."

She retired from Clifton in 1981.

"She was one of a kind," said Marie Bessicks, a friend for more than 50 years and a former Dunbar teacher. "If she was your friend, there was nothing she would not do for you. … She was the first person I would call for the bad things that happened as well as the good."

Shortly before retiring, Mrs. Bryan pursued a lifelong interest in the theater, joining the Arena Players, one of the nation's longest continuously run African-American community theaters. She landed significant roles in several performances, including playing Ruth Younger in "A Raisin in the Sun."

"When she was in college she always wanted to be an actress, but she knew at that time that was not a way she was going to make a living," her daughter, Mamie Bryan, said. "When she retired she wanted to fulfill some of those dreams."

With Arena Players, where she served on the membership committee, she also appeared in "Tambourines to Glory," "Livin' Fat," "Fount of the Nation," "The Night is My Enemy," "The Collection" and other plays.

In a 1978 Baltimore Sun review of an Arena production of four one-act plays, including "Contribution," critic Earl Arnett said Bryan "did a fine job as the 80-year-old Grace Love, who encourages her educated grandson from the North to demonstrate and who makes her own special "contribution" to the struggle. This play is the heart of the evening, and director Robert Russell gets good work from his three-member cast."

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Of all her roles, she was proudest of her part in "Raisin in the Sun," Mamie Bryan said.

"You would have thought she was seeking the Academy Award," her daughter said. "She was very proud of that accomplishment."

For more than 55 years, she was a communicant at St. James' Episcopal Church in Baltimore, where she served as warden of the Altar Guild and volunteered with programs such as Good Shepherd, Kitchen Committee, Share Program, Saint Martha's Guild and sanctuary beautification projects.

"If she was in the room, she was in charge," said Valerie Brice-Brooks, her granddaughter. "Some of these projects were right up her alley… She worked hard at everything she did."

Mrs. Bryan remained an avid sports fan all her life. She loved tennis and would watch televised Wimbledon and Australian Open matches and "coach" the players, family said. She also followed college basketball and was a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, the Baltimore Colts and the Baltimore Ravens. She was an expert seamstress known for an "elegant" fashion sense, family members said.

A memorial service is scheduled for March 27 at St. James' Episcopal Church Parrish Center, 1020 Lafayette Ave., Baltimore. A 10 a.m. family hour will be followed at 11 a.m. by a memorial mass.

Besides her daughter and her granddaughter, Mrs. Bryan is survived by a son, Nelson Bryan of Baltimore; granddaughters Lisa Brice and Tiffany Bryan; grandson Anthony Brice; great-grandsons Donte Hutchins and Michael Brice-Saddler; four nieces, two nephews and several great-nieces and great- nephews. She is also survived by a former daughter-in-law, Doris Bryan, and godson, Clyde Bessicks. Her marriage ended in divorce. She was pre-deceased by a daughter, Barbara Brice.

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