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Lillian Jones-Cuffie, political activist and state worker, dies

Lillian Jones-Cuffie, political activist and state worker, dies
Lillian Baxter Jones-Cuffie was active in Baltimore Democratic politics and was retired from the state's Department of Human Resources. (Baltimore Sun)

Lillian Baxter Jones-Cuffie, who was active in Baltimore Democratic politics and was retired from the state's Department of Human Resources, died of congestive heart failure Dec. 28 at her daughter's Homeland residence.

The Northwood resident was 79.

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Born Lillian Baxter in the Orangeburg, S.C.. community of North, she was the daughter of James and Bertha Baxter.

She earned a bachelor's degree at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. While in school, she met her future husband, Horace Jones.

They moved to Baltimore in 1958, and she initially taught at the House of the Good Shepherd in West Baltimore.

She joined the Department of Social Services and became a caseworker and supervisor. She worked at the department's Greenmount Avenue office.

She became involved in neighborhood organizing and transferred to the Govans Mayor's Station on York Road. She immersed herself in neighborhood politics and set up youth services bureaus through the Department of Recreation and Parks.

A 1991 article in The Baltimore Sun detailed how she helped a Christmas dinner at the Govans for needy members of the community.

She oversaw a buffet of turnip greens, string beans with ham, chicken, turkey, candied yams, rice and gravy, macaroni and cheese, and cornbread dressing that she and other organizers stretched to feed 90, the story said.

After the event ended, she said, "It was like a family reunion, only it was the first time ... there wasn't the slightest disagreement. Everybody said, 'What can I do?'

"It is a tradition in the South that people help people," she said in The Sun account. Recalling her younger days, she said, "We had a big Christmas tree in the yard and all the families would come and share what they had. I remember my mother giving my gift to a child less fortunate. It was an important lesson. We all entered the helping professions when we grew up."

She later joined the Baltimore Community Relations Commission and was a division chief before becoming its assistant director for programs.

"Lil was an up-tempo woman. When she walked in a room, you knew she was there. She had a presence about her," said Thomas Saunders, a friend and co-worker who runs Renaissance Productions and Tours.

"She was adamant about building constituencies," Mr. Saunders said. "She taught you to know every City Council member and every president of a neighborhood association. It helped us to get things done."

John B. Ferron Sr., past director of the Baltimore Community Relations Commission, called her, "one of the most caring and passionately committed persons I have ever had the privilege of working with."

"Lil was a true community person," he said.

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She co-founded a political organization, the North Central Democratic Coalition, with the late Doris Johnson of the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhood.

Mrs. Jones-Cuffie staged candidates nights in the garden behind her Loch Raven Boulevard home, where prospective candidates made appearances. She brought in numerous Democratic candidates, including senators, governors and City Council members.

"She was an African-American pioneer in the political process in Northeast Baltimore," said Baltimore City Council member Robert W. Curran. "She was well connected politically and was a leading activist of her era.

"When Big Lil spoke, people listened," Mr. Curran said. "I respected her."

After retiring, she became a special assistant to the secretary of the state Department of Human Resources.

Mrs. Jones-Cuffie always spent part of the summer visiting Martha's Vineyard. She was an avid shopper and read widely. Family members said she could read a book a day.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and All Angels, 2013 St. Paul St., where she was a member.

Survivors include her husband of 23 years, Ronald Cuffie; a daughter, Tamara Jones-Short of Baltimore; three brothers, Wilbur Baxter of Baltimore and Frank and Ralph Baxter, both of South Carolina; two sisters, Reba Bullock and Celestine Morgan, both of Baltimore; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. Her marriage to Horace Jones ended in divorce.

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