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Obituaries

Margaret P. Armstrong, longtime city educator, dies

Margaret P. Armstrong was a former administrative specialist in the Baltimore public schools' music division who played a pivotal role in the founding of the Baltimore School for the Arts.

Margaret P. Armstrong, a former administrative specialist in the Baltimore public schools' music division who played a pivotal role in the founding of the Baltimore School for the Arts, died July 19 in her sleep at Brookdale Assisted Living in Towson.

She was 100.

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The daughter of Henry Oliver DeMan, a postal supervisor, and Claudia Thomas DeMan, Margaret Phyllis DeMan was born in Baltimore and raised on Fulton Avenue near Druid Hill Park.

Mrs. Armstrong began studying piano at an early age — a talent she came to share during her lifetime with children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and youngsters throughout Baltimore.

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After graduating from Frederick Douglass High School, she earned a bachelor's degree in education in 1935 from what is now Coppin State University.

She later earned a master's degree in 1970 in the history and philosophy of education at what is now Loyola University Maryland.

She began her career as a music teacher in city public schools in 1941 and was promoted to administrative specialist in the system's music division. In that role, she drafted a performing arts curriculum proposal that was implemented in four Model Cities public schools in Baltimore.

The success of that program resulted in Mrs. Armstrong becoming a consultant with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development while continuing her role with city public schools. She created a cultural arts workshop that was placed in six Model Cities districts.

After passage of federal legislation known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Mrs. Armstrong used federal funds in 1965 to establish a cultural enrichment program that grew from 33 performances a year to 750 to 800 in the ensuing 13 years.

"We've got in some way to inculcate in our children an appreciation for beauty and self-dignity, just being human with each other," Mrs. Armstrong told The Baltimore Sun in a 1971 interview.

She ran the program from a school administration building at Orleans and Eden streets — which she called her "booking office." It combined arts and humanities education with performances by musicians, actors, artists and dancers.

"I'm concerned with exposing many facets of the arts," she said in the 1971 interview. "I refuse to stick to any one line. The theory is just to open up avenues for the children.

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"We demand excellence both from the performers and the kids, and try to teach that there's discipline inherent in an art," she said.

Under the auspices of Baltimore's Sister Cities program, she established an international exchange program between city public school educators and teachers in Gbarnga, Liberia.

"It is my belief that through the arts, bridges of understanding and respect can be built --- qualities that are sorely needed at this time," she told The Sun.

Mrs. Armstrong's love of the arts and determination to encourage and support talented city students helped her form a coalition of government and business officials, leaders in the arts community and educational representatives.

That coalition helped her draft the proposal that resulted in a project family members said was "dearest to her heart" — the founding of the Baltimore School for the Arts, which opened in 1980.

The annual Armstrong Honors Recital commemorates her contribution to the school, as does the Margaret DeMan Armstrong Prize for Excellence that was established in 2001. The prize is awarded to a student graduate who "demonstrates a commitment to community service and love of the arts."

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She retired in 1979.

A member of numerous cultural boards, Mrs. Armstrong stressed that they be responsive to the needs of African-American children and families that might not be financially able to attend premier cultural events in the city.

Mrs. Armstrong and Veronica Tyler, a soprano with the New York City Opera and a Peabody Conservatory graduate, were the first two African-Americans to be appointed in 1970 to the conservatory's board of trustees.

In 1972, Mrs. Armstrong was named to a three-year term at Center Stage. She served on its board from 1972 to 1986, then became a board member with emeritus status from 1987 to 2008.

As co-chairman of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's Community Development Committee in the 1970s, she advocated symphony experiences for the city's African-American community, and prompted the BSO to stage a free performance focusing on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"A prime consideration was to increase the knowledge of the symphony throughout the black community," she told The Sun in a 1979 article.

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"But that is not the only consideration," she added, noting that the symphony should be accessible to "many different publics."

In 1992, Mrs. Armstrong took part in a study considering a new middle school for city youths. The effort resulted in the 1993 opening of St. Ignatius Loyola Academy, a tuition-free, private Jesuit school for middle-school boys from low-income families.

Other board memberships included the Western District Community Relations Council, Baltimore City Arts Commission, Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation of Maryland and the preservation of the Frederick Douglass High School auditorium.

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A former longtime resident of North Charles Street in Guilford, she lived in recent years at the Broadview Apartments in Tuscany-Canterbury. She spent her last three years at Brookdale.

Mrs. Armstrong did not follow any particular regimen in gaining centenarian status, family members said.

"She did not smoke and enjoyed an occasional glass of wine. I think because she had a close relationship with her sister, that helped," said Barbara Blount Armstrong, a daughter-in-law who lives in Pikesville. "She was a very goal-oriented person and she was determined to make it to a 100 — but actually made it to a 1001/2."

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She had been a communicant of St. Peter Claver and St. Edward Roman Catholic churches.

A Mass of Christian burial for Mrs. Armstrong will be celebrated at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St., at 11 a.m. Friday.

In addition to her daughter-in-law, she is survived by a son, Roderick Armstrong of Lutherville; her sister, Frances Ashby of Towson; two grandsons; and a great-grandson. She was preceded in death by two sons: William O. Armstrong, who died in 1995; and Carroll R. Armstrong, who died in 2009. A marriage to William O. Armstrong ended in divorce.

frasmussen@baltsun.com


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