Dorothy K. Henry, a retired Social Security Administration clerk who overcame her lack of a formal education later in life and in doing so became an education role model for her children, died April 27 from heart failure at her Randallstown home.
She was 84.
The former Dorothy Kelly, the daughter of Russell Wise, a janitor, and Dorothy Kelly, a domestic, was born in Baltimore and raised in South Baltimore and later West Baltimore.
Ms. Henry was a student at Carver Vocational-Technical High School when she became pregnant.
“She was 18 when she dropped out, but getting her high school diploma was always in the back of her mind,” said a daughter, Linda Bakker of Midway, Fla.
Ms. Henry went to work as a domestic, her daughter said, and when she was in her late 20s, returned to night school determined to get her high school diploma.
“She didn’t want a GED, she wanted a high school diploma and went to Frederick Douglass High School,” said her son, James Abraham, a former Baltimore newspaperman who lives in Port Charlotte, Fla.
What complicated the situation was that Ms. Henry was divorced from her first husband, James Abraham, and was raising four children. A second marriage in the 1980s, to the Rev. George Henry, also ended in divorce.
In the early 1960s, she became a clerk at Fort Meade and then later joined the SSA at headquarters in Woodlawn.
“For about a year and a half, we were on welfare and she didn’t want to live like that,” her son said. “She took in ironing to make extra money.”
“She didn’t like welfare because she wanted to be independent,” her daughter said. “She didn’t want to have to depend on anyone; she wanted to make a day’s pay for a day worked.”
Working by day and attending school at night, Ms. Henry never gave up on her dream of getting a diploma.
“My mom was a reader, and I remember her sitting there studying ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’ for her English class and turned me on to it,“ her son recalled. “I also remember that she had a typing chart taped to the china closet in the dining room so she could practice her typing.”
Ms. Bakker said that her mother “instilled a love of reading and knowledge in all of us.”
“Every week she would take us to the library and we would take out three books and then we would go back and take out three more,” Ms. Bakker said.
Finally, the day that Ms. Henry had worked for arrived.
“It was around 1964, and Baltimore and Mayor [Theodore R.] McKeldin gave my mother her diploma,” Mr. Abraham said. “She was real proud of that.”
“She also was good with figures and took accounting courses at the Community College of Baltimore but did not take a degree,” said Ms. Bakker, a retired human resources manager.
Both Ms. Bakker and Mr. Abraham are college graduates.
“She was extremely proud of that,” her daughter said.
Ms. Henry retired in the early 1990s from the SSA.
A resident of the Randallstown Pavilion Cooperative, she was a former member of Central Baptist Church and since 1995 had been a member of New Antioch Baptist Church in Randallstown.
Noma K. Carter of Pikesville was a close friend of Ms. Henry’s for more than a decade.
“Every Sunday I’d pick her up for church, she didn’t drive, and we had to stop so she could get the Sunpaper, and if she missed church, I had to get the newspaper and bring it to her,” Miss Carter said.
“She adored children and reading to them, and she loved education and making them smarter,” she said.
Miss Carter said that “she was sweet and everyone at church loved her.”
Ms. Henry enjoyed organizing bus trips to cultural and gaming institutions, and also was also a part-time independent health care financing facilitator, her son said.
“I loved her,” Miss Carter said. “I also loved her spirit which was very visible and she was such a sweet lady.”
Funeral services will be held at noon Thursday at her church, 5609 Old Court Road, Windsor Mill.