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Jeannette M. Karpay, a lawyer and founder of the Lillie May Carroll Jackson Charter School, dies

Jeannette M. Karpay joined the faculty of the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1992.
Jeannette M. Karpay joined the faculty of the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1992. (Family photo/The Baltimore Sun)

Jeannette M. Karpay, a lawyer who was a lifelong advocate for abused and neglected children and a founder of the Lillie May Carroll Jackson Charter School, died of paraneoplastic syndrome and breast cancer Tuesday at Gilchrist Center in Towson. The Tuscany-Canterbury resident was 65.

“Jeannette was incredibly vivacious and always positive and interested in everything. She so believed in education and that it be made available to every child regardless of background or circumstances,” said Ann O. Daniels, a member of the board of the Lillie May Carroll Jackson Charter School board. “She was easygoing, lively, and just fun to be around. She always had a smile and was just a wonderful, wonderful person.”

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Carla M. Spawn-van Berkum, former assistant head of Roland Park Country School, and Peter Metsopoulos, who was then a Bryn Mawr School faculty member, worked with Ms. Karpay in writing and submitting the charter that made the school a reality.

“She was a dynamo, very energetic, and personable,” recalled Ms. Spawn-van Berkum. “The school would simply not exist today because she was dogged and came up with its vision.”

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The former Jeannette Sherrill Maddox, daughter of Harry Maddox, a clothing store owner, and his wife, Leslie Maddox, a homemaker, was born and raised in Lakeland, Florida, where she graduated from Lakeland High School.

She began her college studies a Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia, and earned her bachelor’s degree in 1977 from the University of Florida in Gainesville.

“She was a classic do-gooder and after college became a social worker traveling throughout central Florida. And that’s when she became an advocate for kids and decided to go to law school,” said her husband of 38 years, Kenneth Karpay, a lawyer, who met his future wife while both were attending the University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law. She earned her law degree in 1982 and the couple married a year later.

In 1983, the couple moved to Baltimore and she became an attorney with the Legal Aid Bureau of Maryland. In 1989, they moved to Tampa, Florida, where Ms. Karpay became a program attorney with the Guardian ad Litem Program that worked with abused and neglected children in Hillsborough County, Florida.

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“I first met Jeannette at what was then called the Legal Aid Bureau where she was an attorney in the child advocate unit and I was in family law,” said Barbara A. Babb, who also taught at the University of Baltimore Law School, and recommended that Ms. Karpay join its faculty.

“Jeannette was bright, she was brilliant and a very caring lawyer who was always interested in seeing the big picture and putting the pieces together. She was well-rounded and had many friends. She was a person who put herself out for others,” Ms. Babb said. “And with the students she was very patient, nonthreatening, and caring. She had an amazing sense of humor and could find something positive no matter what the situation. She was simply amazing.”

Ms. Karpay and her husband returned to Baltimore in 1992 when she joined the faculty of the University of Baltimore School of Law in its family law clinic, and was also a managing attorney for family law programs with the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, whose work took her to counties throughout the state.

“We’d be driving and going through some county seat and she’d tell me stories about the judges and the lawyers she had worked with,” said her husband, who is a managing partner of Karpay Diem LLC, a consulting business, and a managing director at Oaklins DeSilva+Phillips, a media mergers and acquisitions advisory firm based in New York City.

But what drove Ms. Karpay was the establishment of the Lillie May Jackson Carroll Charter School for Baltimore City girls in the fifth to eighth grades.

The school, which opened in 2015, was the result of nearly a decade of work that sprung from Ms. Karpay’s vision and determination.

“The collaboration was with the Bryn Mawr School, Gilman School and Roland Park Country School, which eventually took the lead,” Ms. Spawn-van Berkum said. “It was to be the best from the public and private school world, and she took us on tours of public schools and the city. She was committed to the public private partnership with the city and for the children of Baltimore.

She added: “She was instrumental in what we were doing and Jeannette went over every page, which was 100, that RPCS submitted which was approved. So, it became the first charter school in the nation started by an independent school.”

“She was a super connector and liked getting people involved,” her husband said.

“The idea came to her years ago and she was like a dog with a bone when it came to the school and it would not exist without her,” said Susan R. Strauss, a close friend of 35 years and school board member. “Without her blood, sweat, tears and persistence, there would be no school.”

The Sinclair Lane school, which takes its name from Lillie May Carroll Jackson, a pioneering civil rights activist and founder of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, had served more than 600 young women.

Ms. Karpay was also a founding member in 1986 of the Bolton Street Synagogue.

She enjoyed hiking, biking, and ocean swimming, particularly in Chamberlain, Maine, where she vacationed with her family each summer.

She and her husband had been hiking at Catoctin Mountain two weeks before she was diagnosed with the cancer that took her life.

“She was at Gilchrist and could no longer speak but she would squeeze my hand when I told her I loved her,” her husband said. “On Tuesday morning, I came in at 9:50 and I said I wanted to establish a scholarship to support Lillie May Carroll Jackson graduates attending college. She raised her eyebrows in approval, and then died an hour later.”

A celebration of life for Ms. Karpay will be held 1 p.m. Monday at her synagogue at 212 W. Cold Spring Lane.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by three sons, David L. Karpay of Hampden, Caleb M. Karpay of New York City, and Robert A. Karpay of Brooklyn, New York; a brother, Randy Maddox of Orlando, Florida; and many cousins, nieces and nephews.

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