Eva P. Higgins, a Mount Vernon resident who served on the city’s preservation commission and was a fervent voice for city neighborhood living, died of respiratory failure Saturday at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. She was 80.
“Eva was the doyenne of the real estate world,” said a friend, Benjamin Feldman. “I called her Eva Belle. She was the real thing. Her silver was real, her pearls were real and her class was real.”
Born Eva Bayne Poythress in Macon, Georgia, she was the daughter of John Maynard Poythress, a water treatment manager, and his wife, Dorothy Randle Bayne, a teacher active in founding special education in Georgia. She was a 1959 graduate of A.L. Miller High School in Macon.
She earned a bachelor’s degree at Emory University, and a master’s degree and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
She studied early American history and researched the monetary system during the Revolutionary period and immediately thereafter.
While a graduate student, she met her future husband, William Robert Higgins.
She taught history at what was then St. Mary’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina.
After moving to Baltimore in the early 1970s, she and her husband purchased an old St. Paul Street rowhouse that had been converted into an American Legion post hall. They restored the building to a residence and raised their family there.
Mrs. Higgins taught and became chair of the history department at the Bryn Mawr School.
In 1980, she joined Hill & Co. and later worked for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. She sold numerous residential properties in Mount Vernon, Bolton Hill and Charles Village.
Friends said Mrs. Higgins became an ambassador for the neighborhoods where she sold properties and immersed herself in the historic preservation movement.
“I loved her for the fact she understood the beauty and value of Baltimore’s in-town neighborhoods,” said a friend, Charles Duff, president of Jubilee Baltimore. “She was not unique in that role, but Eva took it a step beyond and led in the efforts to make those neighborhoods more desirable.”
He recalled she was a founding member of the Midtown Development Corp., a nonprofit group dedicated to making Mount Vernon more livable.
“She generously contributed time, talent and money to buying the old MacGillivray’s pharmacy property when it was threatened with demolition,” Mr. Duff said of a building at 900 N. Charles St. “She helped put together a partnership of 14 neighbors and saved a key piece of Mount Vernon.”
J. Carroll “Jake” Boone, a real estate sales colleague and Bolton Hill resident, said, “Eva was indomitable. She was fine-tuned, precise and a lovely lady. I will miss her distinctive presence, quick wit and the twinkle in her eye.”
Mrs. Higgins was appointed to Baltimore City Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation in 2006 and served until 2012. She was vice chair of the commission from 2009 to 2012.
She often testified at public hearings about buildings she felt should be preserved.
In 1998 Mrs. Higgins took the owners of the old Peabody Book Shop and Bier Stube, a Charles Street structure, to task.
“I think they [the bookstore’s owners] have been very irresponsible in their ownership and their stewardship of the building,” she said. “The reason why the building is in such deplorable condition is that it has been not only neglected but abused. I think the owners would be delighted to see the building collapse.”
While serving on the preservation commission, she applauded efforts to preserve the old Read’s drugstore at Howard and Lexington streets. Its soda fountain was the scene of 1950s civil rights demonstrations when African American patrons were told they could not be seated or served at the fountain counter.
Mrs. Higgins was also a longtime member of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association and served on the board of the Midtown Community Benefits District.
She also served on the board of the Baltimore Architecture Foundation and sat on the Fells Point Architectural Review Panel.
Mrs. Higgins had been a trustees board member of the Wilkes School and was a donor to St. Ignatius Loyola Academy.
She served on the Board of Trustees of Family and Children’s Services for four terms with the most recent term concluding in December 1997. She also served on the charity’s auxiliary and helped run an annual benefit antiques show.
Mrs. Higgins was the 2003 recipient of the Robert Russell Award, Family and Children’s Services’ highest honor awarded for service.
She was also a former member of the Baltimore Museum of Art’s women’s committee and was a member of the Hamilton Street Club.
Colleagues recalled her friendliness.
Mr. Feldman, her friend, said: “Eva knew everybody. She liked to go to Peabody concerts and on the way there, she greeted those she met. She knew the homeless by name. She addressed them with kindness and dignity.”
Her husband of 43 years, William Robert Higgins, died in 2009. He had been president of Southeastern University in Washington from 1982 to 1994.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 811 Cathedral St.
Survivors include her two sons, Mirabeau L. Higgins of Istanbul and Randle Whitfield Higgins of Washington D.C.; and four grandchildren.