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James L. Tucker Jr.

James L. "Jay" Tucker was a retired state education coordinator who brought the arts into school systems and classrooms.
James L. "Jay" Tucker was a retired state education coordinator who brought the arts into school systems and classrooms. (Baltimore Sun)

James L. "Jay" Tucker, a retired state education coordinator recalled as a visionary who brought the arts into school systems and classrooms, died of lung disease Jan. 22 at Gilchrist Hospice. The Fells Point resident was 70.

"We became the first state in the nation to set standards in the arts that were commensurate with the standards we set for science, math or reading," said former state Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick. "Through Jay's creativity, we were able to galvanize people to the arts. He was always thinking of ways to showcase the talents of our students. He was highly respected and set Maryland on a course that the arts must be a critical part of every child's education."

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Born in Library, Pa., he was the son of James L. Tucker Sr. and the former Geraldine Sawyer. He attended Snowden District public schools and earned bachelor's and master's degrees at Temple University. Friends said he immersed himself in the Philadelphia arts scene and taught art in a junior high school. He made prints, painted and worked in graphic arts.

"He lived and breathed arts education. It was his life," said Shelley Johnson, a Frederick resident who directs the Maryland Artist/Teacher Institute, a program that Mr. Tucker established.

He taught at Gallaudet University and at George Washington University, where he also studied. He also taught at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He joined the Maryland State Department of Education and became its coordinator of fine arts.

"I see what goes on across the country in Jay's field. Maryland is unique. We have the strongest fine arts program I know," said Mark Coates, an associate professor at Notre Dame of Maryland University. "Jay was the driving force for quality programming for Maryland. Personally, he had high standards, and he had the ability to bring people together."

Friends recalled Mr. Tucker as soft-spoken and understated.

"He did not want to be in the spotlight," said Mr. Coates, who is also a painter who lives in Baltimore. "He was like a wonderful master of ceremonies. He made sure that everything went to the kids in the classroom."

Dr. Grasmick said Mr. Tucker had a personal style that was not intimidating.

"He was persuasive and not aggressive," she said. "He showed that the arts were not an elitist field. He was also attractive to people. He was a humble man, and he was effective too."

In 2011 the Maryland Institute College of Art awarded him an honorary doctorate.

"You are one of the most dedicated public servants in the history of the state of Maryland," said Karen Carroll, a dean at the school as she read the award in 2011. "You have lent your deep understanding to the great purpose of influencing the quality of fine-arts education across the state. ... You are a national authority, connecting people and ideas in effective ways to raise curriculum standards and instructional accountability. Moreover, you are a visionary, charting a path for the future of the field."

Mr. Tucker had earlier been named the National Administrator/Supervisor of the Year, Maryland State Administrator of the Year and Maryland Art Educator of the Year. He regularly displayed student artwork at the state's schools headquarters, in street-level windows along Baltimore Street and within the building.

He helped create and served on a steering committee for the Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance.

"He loved seeing kids growing and thriving in the arts," said Mary Ann Mears, a sculptor and arts advocate. "He also thought it was about equity and social justice. That poor and disenfranchised students were getting short shrift."

He retired in 2014.

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Mr. Tucker regularly attended exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture.

He lived in a renovated Fells Point home that he filled with paintings, prints and sculpture. He collected traditional African art, African-American art, and art from Asia, Europe and the Americas. He traveled widely and bought paintings as he visited places.

"It was a carefully curated collection," said Mr. Coates, who was also a friend. "He led an artful existence. He was an understated elegant dresser and he appreciated fine dining."

Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Wylie Funeral Home, 701 N. Mount St.

Survivors include his mother, who lives in Pittsburgh; a friend, John A. Scovens Jr. of Baltimore; and a brother, Aaron Tucker of Alabama.

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