Margaret K. Riehl, philanthropist and past board chair of Catholic Charities, dies

Margaret Riehl was a past board chair of Catholic Charities who helped lead major fundraising campaigns. Her son, John H. Riehl IV, said she believed "to serve the Lord started with serving others."
Margaret Riehl was a past board chair of Catholic Charities who helped lead major fundraising campaigns. Her son, John H. Riehl IV, said she believed "to serve the Lord started with serving others." (Handout)

Margaret Knott Riehl, a philanthropist, past board chair for Catholic Charities and an accomplished squash player, died Friday at Sinai Hospital after a series of strokes. She was 84 and had homes in Towson and Easton.

Margaret Celeste Knott was born in Baltimore and raised in Guilford, the daughter of contractor Henry J. Knott and his wife, Marion Burk Knott, both well-known Baltimore philanthropists.


She was a 1951 graduate of the Institute of Notre Dame, then enrolled in the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing and obtained a diploma as a registered nurse in 1954.

She met her husband, John A. Riehl Ill, a real estate executive, in 1955. They married a year later.

Mrs. Riehl raised her family while spending her life as a volunteer for charitable causes. She chaired the Catholic Charities board and was a past board president at Saint Paul's School for Girls.

She was also a board member of the Knott Foundation and a trustee of the Baltimore Community Foundation, where she chaired its neighborhood committee. She also was a trustee of St. Mary's Seminary and University, Bay National Bank, Talbot Country Club, Talbot County Hospice and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

A player of competitive squash, she was a past president of the Women’s Squash Racquets Association and had won its President's Cup. Mrs. Knott also competed in tennis.

“Most important to her was her Catholic faith. She believed that to serve the Lord started with serving others,” said her son, John H. Riehl IV. “She made 11 pilgrimages to Lourdes, France, where she accompanied those in poor health seeking a healthy blessing.”

Mrs. Riehl received a papal honor, the St. Gregory's Medal for distinguished service and philanthropy. She was also awarded the title Dame of Malta for her philanthropic and charitable contributions.

In 2003, she was named outstanding fundraising professional by the Maryland Chapter of the Association of Fund Raising Professionals. In her accepting remarks, Mrs. Riehl quoted from a letter written by her father, Henry J. Knott: "Instead of wasting your own and your children's time on frivolous matters, devote your time and attention to helping your fellow man … with your wealth, your time and your effort.”

Family members said this was a guiding tenet throughout her life.

She was named board chair of Catholic Charities when the organization ran its Amazing Grace campaign. Hal Smith, former executive director of Catholic Charities, called Mrs. Riehl “the glue that held our Catholic Charities campaigns together and enabled us to raise over $50 million.”

“She was absolutely tenacious in the best possible way,” said Mr. Smith. “She was in the background, but she would call and write letters to donors. She extended herself in a gentle, unassuming, consistent way. She brought people together on our committee. That group needed to have a spirit, and she provided it. It was in her heart and in her faith and she was not afraid to share that spirit with others.”

Mr. Smith said the campaign that Mrs. Riehl assisted made it possible to build the Our Daily Bread Employment Center on the Fallsway in downtown Baltimore and the replacement building for St. Vincent's Center and Villa Maria in Timonium.

“I assure you that none of that would have been possible without her steady hand,” Mr. Smith said.

“I have always thought that she viewed being Henry Knott's daughter as a responsibility, not an entitlement,” he added. “In turn, she spent a good deal of her life in service to others — a life lesson for me and, I suspect, many other people as well.”


During her presidency of the board at St. Paul's School for Girls, Mrs. Riehl led the search effort to hire a new head of school, ultimately selecting Lila Lohr.

“She was a quiet leader who led by example,” Ms. Lohr recalled. “She was not interested in the limelight. Margaret was pragmatic and she said what she thought. Her straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is manner endeared her to many. Margaret was focused on making the best decisions that would best assist our students.

“On a personal note, as a new head of school at a time when there weren't so many women leading independent schools, she was a powerful role model for me,” added Ms. Lohr, who is now acting head of the Marin County Country Day School in California.

Mrs. Riehl was also a donor to My Sister’s Place, where a memorial fund has been established in her name.

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Roland Avenue and Northern Parkway.

Survivors include three sons, John H. Riehl IV, Michael J. Riehl and Thomas G. Riehl; a daughter, Lindsay Gallagher; three brothers, Francis Knott, James Knott and Martin Knott, all of Baltimore; four sisters, Patricia Smyth, RoseMarie Porter, Lindsay Harris and Stuart Rodgers, also from Baltimore; 15 grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. Her husband of 61 years died in 2017.