Grace Cooper, retired Harford County elementary school teacher, dies

Grace Cooper, a retired Harford County elementary school teacher who was a prolific reader of mystery novels, died of multiple organ failure Jan. 3 at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center. The Bel Air resident was 80.

Born in Baltimore and raised on North Broadway and on Elmora Avenue near Clifton Park, she was the daughter of Charles H. Fink Jr., a letter carrier, and Kathryn Hellen, a homemaker.


She was a 1959 Eastern High School graduate and finished in the top 10% of her class.

Ms. Cooper studied office management at Strayer’s Business College where she mastered Gregg shorthand. In later years, after becoming a teacher, she used this skill to jot down notes that she didn’t want her students to read.


She initially worked in a clerical position for Charge-It of Baltimore in Park Circle.

She met her future husband, A. Brinton “Brint” Cooper, through the youth counselor at the Lauraville United Methodist Church, where he was a member.

On their first date, she invited him to the Job’s Daughters Easter Monday banquet at the Lord Baltimore Hotel.

They married in 1961 and moved to Bel Air in 1964 where they raised three children.

From the very beginning Ms. Cooper was busy in educating children. She taught junior high church school, served as youth counselor and directed and taught in vacation church school.

She was director of the Harford YWCA Summer Day Camp for one summer, interim church school superintendent of Fallston United Methodist Church for part of a year, and, in retirement, a private, volunteer tutor to four elementary students of various ages and grade levels.

She began studies in elementary education at the old Baltimore Junior College and resumed at Harford Community College after the birth of her third child. She earned a degree in 1972 and received academic honors.

“My wife was an only child and didn’t have a lot of social interaction,” Mr. Cooper said. “She loved playing the role of teacher. As a child, her stuffed animals and her two dogs were her imaginary pupils. She never explained how she got two mutts to sit still.”


Ms. Cooper completed her undergraduate education at what is now Towson University and graduated summa cum laude in 1976. She earned a master’s degree in education at Loyola University Maryland in 1978. She was a night student throughout her educational path.

“Even when her children were small, she served as short-term, then as long-term substitute teacher at Wakefield Elementary School,” her husband said.

After her graduation and accreditation, she taught the fourth grade at Riverside Elementary School for 20 years, where she implemented a 15-node instructional computer network in 1986.

“She was so encouraging about learning,” said Stephanie White, a former fourth grade student. ”She loved her family and when we were practicing penmanship, she would have us write her husband’s and children’s names. I had her in her first year at Riverside and she went on to teach my first child at Abingdon.”

She organized the Riverside science fair and recruited scientists from the labs at Aberdeen Proving Ground to serve as judges.

She spearheaded an early computer network of Apple II computers at Riverside, setting up an installation night and recruiting a Verizon engineer to oversee the volunteers.


Ms. Cooper moved on to Abingdon Elementary School, where she taught for 16 years, serving as grade level chair and co-director of the science fair for some of those years.

In June, she invited her entire class to her home for an end-of-year party.

After retirement, she tutored a small number of non-native English-speaking children.

“She was bigger than life. You knew when Grace was in the room,” said a fellow Abingdon teacher, Jackie Remige. “Grace had a classroom filled with laughter, love and learning. She incorporated all those three things into her work. As a result, she got the best out of her kids.”

“No student could run over her,” said Ms. Remige. ”Grace had a way of working with students. She had a wonderful command of her classroom. She was a masterful teacher.”

Ms. Remige added: “When she answered a phone, she said, in happy way, ‘Gracie here.’ She had a lilt in her voice. She made the perfect teacher because of her personality.”

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She took her classes to Fort McHenry more than 20 times. On another occasion she took her classes to Williamsburg and St. Mary’s City.

She was a fan of the James Patterson and Clive Cussler mystery stories, among many other authors.

“She nearly always figured the culprit before the end of the story,” her husband said.

She loved animals, especially cats, and donated to shelters. She was also a traveler.

“We began overseas travel in 1974 when I attended a two-week scientific workshop in the UK and took the entire family with me,” her husband said. “Three years later, we repeated the experience, taking my parents. I had more work time on that trip, so Gracie became tour guide and docent to my parents and our kids over the years.”

Survivors include her husband of nearly 61 years, A. Brinton Cooper, a research professor at the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering; a daughter, Karina Cooper of Rockville; two sons, Carl Cooper of Melbourne, Florida and Stephan Cooper of Baltimore; and four grandchildren.


A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. May 15 at Fallston Methodist Church.