Frances S. Meginnis, Towson High School teacher, dies

Frances S. Meginnis, Towson High School teacher, dies
Frances S. Meginnis, a former Towson High School English teacher died at the Pickersgill Retirement Community in West Towson. (HANDOUT)

Frances S. Meginnis, a memorable Towson High School English teacher whose composition classes were both rigorous and demanding, died Thursday from respiratory failure at the Pickersgill Retirement Community in West Towson.

She was 95.


She was the daughter of Bertee Shores, a waterman, and Ada Benton Shores, a homemaker. Family members said her father's first American ancestor arrived in Somerset County in 1663 as an indentured servant.

"My father dredged for oysters in the winter and brought tomatoes to local canneries in the summer," she once wrote to a former student. "Perhaps my heritage is a combination of Chesapeake Bay's wind, water and salt."

Mrs. Meginnis lost her family at an early age. An older sister died before Mrs. Meginnis was born, and when she was 9, her mother died of brain cancer.

"With no one to look after his young daughter, her father took the girl on his work boat one summer," Hal Piper, a former Baltimore Sun managing editor and foreign correspondent, wrote in a biographical sketch. Mr. Piper had been one of Mrs. Meginnis' students at Towson High School.

"When the boat stopped at riparian farms on the Eastern Shore, as Mrs. Meginnis later recalled, the farmers' wives often took her into their houses and washed her clothes and bathed her," Mr. Piper wrote.

In 1930, her father placed his daughter at the Samuel Ready School, which was then located at North Avenue and Harford Road. The school was an orphanage for girls, and while she was technically not an orphan, she became one at age 12 after her father's death in 1933.

"Mrs. Meginnis had fond memories of the kindness of the women who operated the orphanage; she often said that many of the women had themselves been orphans who had grown up at the Samuel Ready School and knew the loneliness of an orphan," wrote Mr. Piper, who lives in Glen Arm.

As an adult, she became a trustee of the school, and when the decision was made to close the school in 1977, she played an instrumental role in establishing the Samuel Ready Scholarship Fund and served as president of its board. The fund supports promising female students at local private schools, and its most prestigious award is given annually in her name to a graduating senior.

She graduated from Samuel Ready in 1938, then entered a New Deal work program that provided a dormitory-style bed and a paycheck as she attended the old Towson State Teachers College — now Towson University. There, she edited The Towerlight, the college newspaper.

She enjoyed telling the story, recalled Mr. Piper, of getting off the Baltimore Transit Co.'s No. 8 streetcar at the end of the city fare in Anneslie and walking a mile to college up and back York Road in order to avoid having to pay the additional nickel zone fare each way.

In the 1942 commencement issue of The Towerlight, she was described in a "Senior Personalities" profile as "Frances Shores — rollicking sense of humor ... swell friend ... storehouse of info and tall tales ... wants to travel, climb mountains, and do things."

She began her teaching career in 1942 at Frederick Junior High School in Frederick County. In 1947, she saw a notice in a magazine for a teacher-exchange program in England. She applied and received an appointment to a school in Wallasey, Cheshire, England, near Liverpool.

In 1948, she was received by Queen Elizabeth II along with 119 other American teachers.

She joined the faculty at Towson High School in 1953, teaching English literature and composition. She worked there until 1967.


"Her class was pretty rigorous and demanding. She had a sense of humor that was dry and sarcastic, and not all students liked her at first," said Mr. Piper, who studied with Mrs. Meginnis from 1955 to 1956.

"You quickly realized she was asking you to be better than you were, and there were lots of challenges," he said.

F. Carvel Payne, former director of the state Department of Legislative Services, graduated in 1960 from Towson High School.

"You quaked in your seat when you were in her class, as she did not suffer fools silently," Mr. Payne, who lives in Severna Park, said with a laugh. "She wanted you to know that your latest epistle was not a gift to God's literary world. But I loved her, and most people did well later in their college English classes because of her."

Mrs. Meginnis supported students who were "facing adversities, and pointed some of them toward prestigious universities," Mr. Piper said.

It was a train wreck that brought Mrs. Meginnis in contact with the man who would become her husband. In 1954, she and another teacher were escorting 36 Towson High students to New York City to visit the United Nations. They were traveling aboard the Baltimore & Ohio's National Limited when it side-swiped another train near Wilmington, Del., derailing 10 of its 13 passenger cars. None of the students were injured, according to a Sun news account.

An insurance adjuster, Richard Meginnis investigated and interviewed the teacher. They married in 1958. He died in 1963.

After leaving Towson, she worked for the state Department of Education until she retired in the mid-1980s. In retirement, she took a part-time position with the state Department of Legislative Reference editing the Articles of the Annotated Code of Maryland.

In 1999, she was nominated by two former students to be "Maryland Educator of the Century," being compiled by Mike Bowler, an education reporter for The Sun.

The former resident of the Broadview Apartments in Tuscany-Canterbury lived at Pickersgill in recent years.

In the past year, Mr. Payne compiled an email list of about 50 of her former students who live around the world. In recognition of their teacher, they established the Frances Shores Meginnis Award, a memorial fund that annually honors a student who shows promise in the humanities.

At her request, there will be no services. "It was her wish, her remains are to be cremated and her ashes strewn upon the waters of Somerset County, Maryland, her father's home country," Mr. Piper wrote.

She is survived by a stepson, John Meginnis of Towson; and a stepdaughter, Kelly Meginnis of Parkville.