Mary A. Schumaker, a former gallery owner who was known for her gourmet cooking, parties and being the “hostess with the mostess,” died June 7 of complications from cancer at Gilchrist Center in Towson. The Catonsville resident was 84.
“Mary was one of my dearest friends and we met in jail,” Kendel S. Ehrlich, former first lady of Maryland, said with a laugh.
“She was a supervisor in the work release program, and I was a young public defender and she would sometime testify in court. That was in the 1990s,” Mrs. Ehrlich said. “She was older than me, but had a very young spirit. We just clicked and had so much fun together.”
When Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was elected governor in 2003, Ms. Schumaker became a fixture at Government House.
“She became very much part of our lives in the mansion,” Mrs. Ehrlich said. “She was always ‘Aunt Mimi’ to my two boys, who just adored her. She’d take them to festivals and other events if I was out busy on the campaign trail.”
The former Mary Angela Rotolo, the daughter of Italian immigrant parents, was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. Her father, Pete Rotolo, was a railroadman, and his wife, Mary Francesca Rotolo, was a homemaker.
After graduating from Rosary High School in Columbus, Ms. Schumaker trained and worked as a radiation technician.
In 1964, she married Byron E. Schumaker and moved to Washington, and in the late 1960s her husband, a former Washington Star photographer, became a White House staff photographer during the tenure of President Richard Nixon. The marriage ended in divorce.
During the 1970s, Ms. Schumaker opened the Washington Gallery of Photography on Capitol Hill near Eastern Market. It exhibited the work of emerging and better-known Washington photographers.
“After gallery shows, she hosted gourmet dinners at her house that were often written up in The Washington Post and Washington Star,” said her daughter, Gina Schumaker, who lives in Station North in Baltimore.
In 1976, Ms. Schumaker and her family moved to a farm in Flint Hill, Va., near Shenandoah National Park, where she renovated a 1700s-era farmhouse, established a gallery in a former corn crib, and in addition to operating the gallery, served as magistrate for Rappahannock County.
Ms. Schumaker, who was an accomplished gourmet cook, was friends of the founders and owners of the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Va., and often could be found cooking with them in its kitchen, her daughter said.
In the early 1980s, she moved to Edgewater, and went to work at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center in its pretrial release division, where she also was an alcohol and drug counselor. She also volunteered with Offenders’ Aide and Restoration, a county-funded inmates’ rights agency.
In 1991, Ms. Schumaker founded Centro de Ayuda, or Center of Help, a nonprofit, in the Allen Apartment complex on Center Street in Annapolis, that “promotes self-sufficiency by providing support and educational services for Hispanic families,” The Capital reported in 2004.
She established the organization to assist with the boom in Hispanic immigrants in Annapolis in the late 1990s.
“You never know what’s going to come through the door, “ Ms. Schumaker, who was also president of the organization, she explained in The Capital article. “But it’s primarily employment, food, shelter — the basics — that they need help with.”
Ms. Schumaker retired from Centro de Ayuda in 2008.
Like the legendary Washington hostess and socialite Perle Mesta, who was known for her lavish parties and earned the moniker as being the “hostess with the mostess,” Ms. Schumaker threw a celebrated joint Cinco de Mayo and Kentucky Derby party.
“Mary Schumaker of Edgewater has been throwing her Cinco de Mayo party of the last five or six years and has found that it fits in quite well with the horse race, although her food definitely leans the Mexican way,” The Capital reported in 2004.
“Her party on Saturday began with stuffed jalapeno peppers, black bean dip and guacamole combined with a tomatillo-avocado salsa,” the newspaper reported. “Then there were chicken enchiladas, black bean salad, ceviche loaded with shrimps and scallops, cornbread and a baked plantain dish made by Sophie Camacho-Hoover.”
Ms. Schumaker made sure her guests were able to wash down her feast with plenty of her homemade margaritas.
She also was an informed oenophile, her daughter said.
An avid gardener, Ms. Schumaker paid particular attention to her herb garden, which she used to prepare such dishes as her basil pesto.
“She made the go-to basil pesto,” her daughter said. “She always served the traditional seven-dish Italian dinner on Christmas Eve. Of course she could cook anything, and I think she must have had 20,000 recipes.”
“Mary was a very stylish woman who loved her Mexican jewelry, Mrs. Ehrlich, who lives in Annapolis, said. “She was very cosmopolitan and had just a great style.”
Ms. Schumaker enjoyed jewelry making and traveling. For the past 25 years, she had spent January through March visiting Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
“She was a real Renaissance woman,” her daughter said.
Services are private.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a son, Aaron Schumaker of Washington; two brothers, Michael Rotolo and Gus Roltolo, both of Columbus; and a sister, Kathy Rotolo of Columbus.