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Katharine Bamberger was active in philanthropic and social causes.
Katharine Bamberger was active in philanthropic and social causes. (HANDOUT)

Katharine Bamberger, who was known for her civic activism and work for Baltimore's poor, died of cancer Dec. 6 at Roland Park. The former Inner Harbor and Bolton Hill resident was 87.

Katharine Kelehar was born and raised in Boston, the daughter of Vincent Philip Kelehar, an engineer and World War I veteran, and the former Christine Pickett. She earned a bachelor's degree at Trinity College in Washington and was active in the school's alumnae affairs.

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In 1952, she married E. Clinton Bamberger Jr., an attorney at Piper & Marbury and later a faculty member at the University of Maryland School of Law. Mr. Bamberger was also a senior Fulbright scholar who served in Nepal and taught law in South Africa, Australia and the Netherlands.

Mrs. Bamberger was elected a vice president of the City-County Democratic Club in 1963 and three years later worked on her husband's unsuccessful campaign for Maryland attorney general. She was a member of the Voluntary Advisory Committee of the old Baltimore City Hospitals and served on the board of the Echo House Foundation, a nonprofit drug abuse prevention program in Franklin Square.

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"She and Clinton had a life full of adventure and shared values," said Betty Medsger, a friend. "They took the walking tour of wildlife parks in South Africa. They walked with the wild animals. They also went up in hot-air balloons. Any time Clinton or someone suggested they do something adventurous, Katharine said yes."

As Mr. Bamberger created public interest law programs and taught in the United States and overseas, Ms. Medsger said, "Katharine not only was at his side, she was deeply interested and engaged with him and the people doing the work."

"The same was true with community activities in their beloved Baltimore," said Ms. Medsger, a former reporter for The Washington Post. "She knew the ins and outs of local politics and of the philanthropic agencies. She gave countless hours to volunteer work on behalf of poor people over many years."

Ms. Medsger recalled the time the Bambergers spent in South Africa in 1990.

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"It had a special place in their hearts," she said. "They loved spending that year there in the caldron that resulted in the end of apartheid. She and Clinton yearned for a just society."

Mrs. Bamberger was a longtime volunteer at Viva House in Southwest Baltimore. "She was adventuresome and enjoyed life," recalled Willa Bickham, an artist who co-founded Viva House with husband Brendan Walsh.

In 1994, The Baltimore Sun reported that the Bambergers cultivated an "international network of friends, judges, professors, politicians and students."

University of Maryland law professor Michael Millemann described Mrs. Bamberger as "modest and humble."

"She was extremely charming, warm and friendly," he said. "She was a wonderful partner to Clinton and nurtured him. She was a woman who never lost her temper. She was smart and up to date on the world. She was a thoughtful person, and her conversations were substantive."

Brenda Bratton Blom, a friend, said Mrs. Bamberger "stood shoulder to shoulder with Clinton as he traveled the world."

"She was an amazing woman," said Mrs. Blom, a retired Maryland law professor. "She was of that moment in history in the post-suffragette era. She was already a wife and a mother when Gloria Steinem came along. She propelled into the mainstream while still being committed to a traditional family. She seemed to say, 'Don't underestimate who I am.'"

Ms. Blom remembered Mrs. Bamberger as "articulate about every single cause or issue."

"She was tall and strong and reminded me of Katharine Hepburn," Ms. Blom said. "She had that kind of carriage when she entered a room. … I recall visiting their home in Bolton Hill. She ran a salon of friends. The dinner was scrumptious. The conversation was intelligent. And she was the driver in all of this."

Larry Gibson, also a Maryland law professor, called Mrs. Bamberger "graceful and progressive politically and extremely well read."

"She was very much a partner to Clinton," he said. "They were virtually inseparable and were definitely kindred spirits."

Mrs. Bamberger was also a member of the Baltimore Women's Giving Circle.

"She was elegant but not a fancy elegant," said Myra Hettleman, a friend of many years. "She was simple, kind and graceful, with an encyclopedic memory.

"She was organized and meticulous. She was practical and was full of helpful advice. … Her friends, with a twinkle in our eyes, had a little name for her," Mrs. Hettleman said. "We called her 'Saint Katharine.'"

Mrs. Bamberger donated her body to the Maryland Anatomy Board. No funeral is planned. A memorial fund has been created in her name at Viva House.

In addition to her husband of 64 years, survivors include a son, Edward C. "Ned" Bamberger III of Timonium, and three grandchildren. A daughter, Christine Ann Bamberger, died in 1998.

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