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Obituaries

Mary E. Ordeman, who taught middle school art at St. Paul’s School where she was known as everyone’s mother, dies

Mary E. Ordeman was a horse enthusiast.

Mary E. Ordeman, a middle school art teacher and mother figure at St. Paul’s School, where she lived on campus with her husband, who was headmaster of the school, died Aug. 29 at the Augsburg Village retirement community in Lochearn. She was 90.

No cause of death was available.

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“She was a special and kind woman, and I felt as if I had lost a relative when I heard that she had died,” said Geordie Mitchell, who was a graduate of St. Paul’s and whose father, George Mitchell, was a faculty member and lacrosse coach. “She had talent and grace and was an amazingly talented artist.”

The former Mary Elizabeth Duthie, daughter of Donald James Duthie, an accountant, and Constance Betley Duthie, a chemist, educator and homemaker, was born in London and raised in Halstead, England.

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Halstead was an out-of-the-way village in the English countryside until the outbreak of World War II, when the Battle of Britain played out above it.

She was 8 and slept with a bowie knife under her pillow ‘in case the Germans came in the night,’” Mrs. Ordeman told her family.

“The village lay on the German flight path to London, and errant bombs occasionally landed close, once killing a neighboring family,” according to a biographical profile written by her son, Donald Lee Ordeman, of Washington. “When the Luftwaffe would appear, she and her older brother, James, would hide in the family’s backyard shelter. He forbade his little sister to look out but would peek at battles himself: ‘There’s a Messerschmitt!′ she recalled him telling her.”

Because of the bucolic farmlands that surrounded Halstead, it was natural that Mrs. Ordeman became a dog and horse lover. Her equine interest was stimulated by a farmer who lent her a retired draft horse that she rode like a pony, and later a friend gave her a thoroughbred mare named Pippety, who she rode in point-to-point competitions and shows in Southeast England.

“She rode any horse she could find,” said a daughter, Elizabeth “Liz” Blizzard of Ilkley, Yorkshire, England.

A talented rider, she qualified and competed in the national Horse of the Year Show.

“It’s the Wimbledon of horse shows, an enormous accomplishment, particularly for a teenager with little support, largely self-taught,” Ms. Blizzard said.

Although she did not own a horse in Maryland, Mrs. Ordeman would recondition and school neglected horses, which she would sometime train and ride competitively, family members said.

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She was a graduate of Walthamstow Hall, a private girls school, in nearby Sevenoaks in Kent, where she excelled in art and lacrosse. Like so many British teens of the era, she was sent to work on a dairy farm, where she learned a farmer’s comfortable way with animals.

“She understood animals, respected them, and cared for them, but she wouldn’t smother them with undue affection. She gave them their space,” her son said.

She became an active member of Future Farms, the British equivalent of the 4-H, and was set on becoming a farmer, but a teacher at Walthamstow Hall urged her to apply to art school. She did and was awarded a scholarship to Goldsmiths’ College, University of London, and after completing five years of study, earned a master’s degree in fine art.

After graduating from the university, Mrs. Ordeman began teaching art in Bermuda and appeared on local television, where she led children in art projects.

While visiting New York City on a vacation in the mid-1950s, she went to a party and met her future husband, John Talbot “Jack” Ordeman, a high school English, art and religion teacher, and a Marine Corps reservist.

“They exchanged letters, and after traveling to visit each other in turn, they were engaged,” according to the family profile. “They had spent less than two weeks together.”

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After marrying in 1958, she joined her husband at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, where he was a member of the faculty. They settled into a campus home, and she taught art and had the first of their four children.

In 1960, her husband was appointed assistant headmaster of Episcopal High School, a position he held until 1966 when he came to St. Paul’s School when its headmaster, S. Atherton Middleton, retired.

Mr. Ordeman made it a condition of his acceptance that he would come to the Brooklandville school only if it began the process of integration, and during his tenure he appointed the first African American to the board of trustees.

As she had done at Episcopal, Mrs. Ordeman taught middle school art as well as serving as the headmaster’s wife, “essentially a full-time and unpaid job,” family members said.

Mrs. Ordeman’s duties included heading committees, designing and producing publications, overseeing events, managing the annual horse show, hosting parties, consulting on architectural and other design projects, and substitute teaching.

An accomplished calligraphist, Mrs. Ordeman created the school’s iconic logo, which is still in use.

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Mrs. Ordeman and her family lived in Brooklandwood, the 18th century Georgian mansion on the school’s campus that had once been home to Capt. Isaac Emerson, inventor of Bromo-Seltzer, the headache remedy.

She made sure her home was open not only to boarders who lived on campus, but also to other children.

“A student left waiting for a late ride or just needing a mother’s comfort would be given cookies and milk, a place to do homework or watch TV, or even a bed for the night, according to the family profile.

“When you live on campus of a boarding school, you work 24/7,” said Mr. Mitchell, who lived on campus and graduated in 1978. He later returned to St. Paul’s in 1990 where he worked in admissions until 2004.

She was the person students turned to when they had splinters, sick or injured pets, and out-of-commission bicycles. When a too-small jersey was given to a large player on her son’s midget lacrosse team, she took it home, cut out its numbers, sewed them onto one of her husband’s T-shirts and then dyed it to match the team colors, and got it back to the boy before his first game.

“She supported all of the students with grace and poise. And when the school was winding down its boarders, she would cook them meals,” Mr. Mitchell said. “She was everyone’s mom and made them feel welcome. She treated us all [as] if we were her own.”

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It wasn’t uncommon for Mrs. Ordeman to prepare dinner for a dozen people, including her children and five hungry high school boys.

The couple left St. Paul’s in 1985 when Mr. Ordeman was named headmaster and taught English at Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was later interim headmaster and again taught English for a year at Kerr-Vance Academy in Henderson, North Carolina, and in 1990 was named headmaster at Broadwater Academy in Exmore, Virginia.

The couple lived in Nassawadox on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where they immersed themselves in civic and environmental organizations. She was also active in Hungars Episcopal Church, where she was secretary to the rector and edited the church newsletter.

The couple purchased and restored an old camp in the Thousand Islands along Canada’s St. Lawrence River, where they spent summers. There, Mrs. Ordeman learned to cane antique chairs, canvas a canoe, sail, and handle boats in all weather conditions.

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She and her husband later moved to Cherrystone, Virginia, where she enjoyed trap shooting with family and friends and continued to volunteer.

“She was a good shot, a natural, but never bragged about it,” her son said. “If she outshot you, she wouldn’t ever mention it, and just made it up to you with a biscuit and a cup of tea.”

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Mrs. Ordeman had been secretary to the Maryland chapter of the Daughters of the British Empire and was a volunteer with the Red Cross and Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland.

She was a past president of the Episcopal Church Women of Virginia; a lay reader at Episcopal churches, including Old St. Paul’s in Baltimore; a lifelong member of the Society of St. John the Evangelist; and a supporter of St. Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan.

In 2016, the couple moved to Augsburg Village. Mr. Ordeman died in 2020.

Plans for a memorial service for Mrs. Ordeman to be held at St. Paul’s School are incomplete.

In addition to her son and daughter, Mrs. Ordeman is survived by two other daughters, Jennifer Harbold of Charles Village and Jessica Foster of Madbury, New Hampshire; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.


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