Margaret E. Yaffe

Margaret E. Yaffe
Margaret E. Yaffe, one of the Enoch Pratt Free Library's oldest cardholders who was also a longtime active member of the Friends of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, died Feb. 18 of multiple organ failure at Gilchrist Hospice in Towson. The Howard Park resident was 100. (Baltimore Sun)

Margaret E. Yaffe, one of the Enoch Pratt Free Library's oldest cardholders who was also a longtime active member of the Friends of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, died Feb. 18 of multiple organ failure at Gilchrist Hospice in Towson.

The Howard Park resident was 100.

Margaret Evelyn Heim was born at home in the same residence in the 2300 block of Eastern Ave. where her mother had been born.

She was raised in the 100 block of N. Potomac St., and graduated first in her class at Eastern High School in 1928.

After high school, Mrs. Yaffe attended Baltimore Business College, from which she graduated in 1929. She also took courses at the Johns Hopkins University.

In 1936, she married Paul Yaffe, a psychologist and sculptor, who later became director of educational testing services for the Baltimore city schools. He died in 1974.

She worked for 15 years as bookkeeper and office manager for Baltimore Tool Works until leaving in 1943 to raise her son.

The couple lived during the early years of their marriage on Preston Street, then moved in 1948 to Milford Avenue in Howard Park, where Mrs. Yaffe lived the rest of her life.

Mrs. Yaffe's love affair with books and the Pratt Library began when she obtained her first library card in 1920, at the age of 9.

In an article she wrote for the Pratt newsletter, Mrs. Yaffe recalled the day she received her library card.

"In 1920, branch libraries were known not by names but by numbers. The year 2010 marks the 90th anniversary of my first library card from Branch 13," Mrs. Yaffe wrote. "The library in Patterson Park seemed like a vast treasure house, and it became my home away from home."

To receive a card in those days, Mrs. Yaffe recalled, "You had to be able to write in ink, which involved straight pens and ink wells," and that handwriting "wasn't taught until the fourth grade, so I waited impatiently to get my card."

Mrs. Yaffe said that children were allowed to borrow only one book at a time. "The first book I borrowed was 'Molly and the Unwise Man Abroad,' a story of misadventures abroad. Then came fairy tale books, the 'Five Little Pepper' series, the 'Little Colonel' series, and on through Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women' and 'Little Men,'" she wrote.

"It delighted her that the Patterson Park branch of the Pratt Library was less than two blocks away from her home," said her son, David Louis Yaffe, who lives in Howard Park.

"Throughout the rest of her youth, she was at the library about every day and became the enthusiastic reader she remained throughout her life," he said.

For years, Mrs. Yaffe maintained a detailed log of the books she read. She averaged three books a month, and her literary taste ranged from biography to novels, history, and mysteries.

Mrs. Yaffe enjoyed Jane Austen and Baltimore writers Laura Lippman and Anne Tyler. One of her favorite genres was mysteries, and some of her favorite writers included Julia Spencer-Fleming, Robert Parker, Sue Grafton, Martha Grimes and Wendy Holden, her son said.

The Friends of the Enoch Pratt Free Library was established in 1973 to support the library and its services, and three years later, Mrs. Yaffe joined its board and served as treasurer for 15 years and membership registrar for 15 years.

Clint Roby, president of the Friends of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, has known Mrs. Yaffe since the 1990s.

"The amazing thing about Margaret is that so many people want to be crusaders but are unwilling to do the work. She did the work. She was the mother of our group," said Mr. Roby.

Mrs. Yaffe and other members were regulars at the annual "Taxpayers Night" held at the War Memorial Building. "She was a library activist and she'd go and wave signs at Taxpayers Night. I remember how angry she got when the story hour program was canceled," said Mr. Roby.

Jane Shipley, another member, was a friend of Mrs. Yaffe's for nearly two decades.

"She was loyal, sensible and dedicated to the Friends. She did everything that was asked of her, and she did it to the best of her ability. And she had lots of ability," said Ms. Shipley.

She recalled the battle that ensued when the Pratt proposed closing 10 branches.

"Margaret was on the board then when the Friends voted to give Pratt a chunk of money to keep the libraries open," she said. "She was very modest and self-effacing. If we were all like Margaret, the world would be a better place."

Mrs. Yaffe brought the same fervor to her earlier work with civil rights and integration. She and her husband joined others who picketed Baltimore's old Ford's Theatre for seven years before it dropped its policy of segregation.

"Along the way, she and my father recalled the shamefully rapid process in the '60s when 90 percent of the neighborhood showed their real bigotry and cowardice and moved out, and their places were taken by African-Americans, who proved to be good and delightful neighbors," her son said.

Mrs. Yaffe had been a longtime active member of the Howard Park Civic Association, Baltimore Fellowship House and its Baltimore Arts Center, the first racially integrated art school in Maryland.

Other interests included the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, where she was a longtime subscriber was still attending concerts up until October. She also supported the Baltimore Opera Company and what is now the John Astin Theatre in the Merrick Barn at the Johns Hopkins University

She enjoyed traveling to Europe and taking weekend trips to New York City, where she attended the theater, concerts and art exhibitions.

In recalling her life for the Pratt newsletter, Mrs. Yaffe wrote, "The library has been a great part of my life. I don't know what I would have done without it."

Mrs. Yaffe left her body to the Maryland Anatomy Board. At her request, there will be no services.

In addition to her son, she is survived by nieces and nephews.