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Idell Pugh was one of the first African American members of St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church.
Idell Pugh was one of the first African American members of St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church. (Handout / HANDOUT)

Idell Pugh, a retired Pimlico Elementary School principal who racially integrated a Roman Catholic parish, died of multiple organ failure Jan. 15 at a Randallstown assisted-living center. The former Govans resident was 95.

Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and raised in New Orleans, she was the daughter of Edward Shedrick, a baker, and his wife, Unice, a homemaker. She was a graduate of St. Mary’s Academy in New Orleans and earned a degree in education at what is now Grambling State University. She later earned a master’s degree from the University of Maryland, College Park.

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While working in the Grambling president’s office, she met her future husband, Melville Westbrook Pugh Jr., who later joined the faculty of Morgan State University and became its acting sociology department chair. They married in 1953.

While a student, she began her affiliation with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She held posts within its Epsilon Omega chapter in Maryland.

She and her husband moved to Maryland and initially lived with her in-laws in Sparrows Point. She taught at School 25, on Aliceanna Street, and later became principal of Pimlico Elementary School.

She was quoted in news stories after the three Woodfork sisters and their father died in a 1982 rowhouse fire.

“Even though we tried as much as we could to have a normal school day, some children became very upset,” she said in a Sun article. “Many of the children had seen the fire on the way to school.”

She and her family later lived on Midwood Avenue in the Govans neighborhood and were among the first African Americans to join and became long-term members of St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church on York Road.

“It was suggested that she could go to a segregated, historically black Catholic church, but my mother did not really want that. She had her reservations. She was the type of person who could talk to anyone. She was an ambassador,” said her son, Melville Pugh III.

Mrs. Pugh also overcame the barriers to have her sons enrolled at what was then an all-white St. Mary’s School.

Another son, Clifford John Pugh, who died in 2019, graduated from St. Mary’s and received a scholarship to Loyola High School at Blakefield. He went on to graduate from Harvard University and served on the staff of Rep. Parren Mitchell.

Her second son, Melville III, also graduated from the school and won scholarships to Calvert Hall College High School and Wheeling College.

“She was a lovely lady and an excellent school administrator,” said Milton Dugger, a fellow parishioner. “She was a motivator and energizer. She worked well in the parish and got people involved. She was a catalyst.”

He recalled that Mrs. Pugh was an early and forceful proponent of the canonization of Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange of the Oblate Sisters of Providence.

Mrs. Pugh retired from Baltimore City Public Schools in 1986. She was then asked to serve as principal at St. Mary’s School in Govans while a new head of the school was being recruited.

In 1983 she received a top honor in her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, its Vivian J. Cook Award. In 1985 Mrs. Pugh headed the 50th anniversary celebration for the Morgan State University Women.

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In 1993 what is now Towson University honored Mrs. Pugh as a Distinguished Black Marylander.

Funeral services were held Saturday at the Wylie Funeral Home.

In addition to her son, survivors include three grandchildren. Her husband of 52 years died in 2005.

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