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Judith Mayer, retired social worker and advocate for girls, dies

Judith Mayer, retired social worker and advocate for girls, dies
Judith Mayer was a founding member of the National Girls Caucus. (handout / HANDOUT)

Judith Ann Buckner Mayer, a retired social worker in Maryland’s juvenile justice system who was an advocate for girls, died of multiple myeloma Aug. 2 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. She was 78 and lived in Otterbein.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, she was the daughter of Horace DeForest Buckner, a postal worker who was a specialist in its dead letter department, and his wife, Bessie Mae Pursell, a Famous-Barr department store children’s clothing sales associate.

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When she was a young woman, others recognized her natural ability to organize and get a task done. She worked her way through college organizing new chapters and strengthening existing chapters of her sorority, Alpha Delta Pi. She began her studies at the University of Missouri and was requested by her sorority to start a new chapter at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, where she completed her sophomore year.

Through a friend, she met her future husband, Hans F. Mayer, who had heard of her at Gettysburg. After she moved to College Park, they met in front of her sorority house while she was earning a bachelor’s degree in English literature at the University of Maryland.

Ms. Mayer joined the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and was a manager and overseer of several programs. She received her master’s degree in social work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore in 1974.

She worked for 25 years in Maryland’s juvenile justice system. In Anne Arundel County, she helped to recruit new foster families to develop a program of standard training for them, according to a biography her husband prepared.

She became a manager at the Department of Juvenile Services’ main office in downtown Baltimore and headed contract monitoring with statewide facilities. She also revised her agency’s contract monitoring system following a critical review by state auditors.

Ms. Mayer chaired the Female Population Task Force, which designed gender-specific resources for girls within the juvenile services system. She led the redesign of a juvenile program at the Cheltenham Youth Facility and opened its first all-female shelter, her husband said.

“She felt strongly that the juvenile services system could do more for girls under its care,” said her husband . “She was dynamic and liked getting things done. When she saw a need, she stepped in."

Ms. Mayer was a founding member of the National Girls Caucus, an organization seeking better treatment and resources for girls in juvenile justice systems.

She also conducted professional workshops at state, regional and national gatherings.

She heard about East Baltimore’s Banner Neighborhoods volunteer reading program at Patterson Park, where her husband said she met two boys whose parents were dead.

“For more than a dozen years, she was tutor, mentor, life coach and advocate, with the help of others, to the family,” her husband said. “She worked along one to graduate from Mervo Tech and become a licensed electrician, and another is now an NFL football player. A sister is working on a master’s degree at Towson University.”

She also worked within the system to have an older brother made the legal head of family so his younger siblings would not be separated.

Ms. Mayer was involved in campaigns of political progressives and marched in peace and justice assemblies. She also worked to create Citizens for Interracial Progress in Pumphrey in Anne Arundel County. Over the years she supported campaigns for Maryland House of Delegates member Werner Fornos, Sen. Joseph Tydings, Robert Kennedy and Barack Obama.

Ms. Mayer was a member of the First Unitarian Church and chair of the Buildings and Grounds Committee for the the nearly 200-year-old landmark at Charles and Franklin streets.

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Mark West, a fellow committee member, said, "Judy was beautiful and elegant and a force of nature. She spent her life in management, and she brought those skills to First Unitarian. She undertook the renovation of the church hall. She took something that looked like a bus station and made it into something elegant.

Mr. West also said, “She had the know-how to focus and get a project done."

She was an Orioles fan and had season tickets to Maryland football and basketball. She also built a garden in her courtyard. She enjoyed dancing.

She and her husband visited numerous overseas destinations. She was an avid tennis player at the Bare Hills club and was a dedicated tai chi practitioner. She kept up on current events and read widely. She was a donor to numerous philanthropic causes.

In addition to her husband of 55 years, the former Maryland acting secretary of economic and community development and executive director of the Maryland Economic Development Corp., survivors include a daughter, Rachel Mygatt of Baltimore; a son, Aaron Mayer, also of Baltimore; and two grandchildren.

Plans for a life celebration the First Unitarian Church are pending.

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