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Mary Sprow, longtime Baltimore City educator, dies

Mary Sprow, longtime Baltimore City educator, dies
Mary Sprow was an active member of Grace Presbyterian Church for 80 years. (HANDOUT)

Mary Sprow, a longtime Baltimore City schoolteacher and librarian who loved to travel and was an active member of Grace Presbyterian Church for 80 years, died of heart failure April 9 at her son's home in Pikesville. She was 97.

Mrs. Sprow, whose approachable, outgoing personality made her an encouraging teacher, worked in city schools for about 30 years. Her former students would recognize her in the grocery store or elsewhere in public long after her retirement in 1979, said her son, Otis W. Sprow Jr.

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“Very frequently, she would be identified by people she had taught 30, 40 years before,” Mr. Sprow said. “They would positively comment on how she encouraged them and made them feel good.”

The eldest daughter of Joseph S. Tyler, a barber, and the former Blanch O’dell, a beautician, Mary O’dell Tyler Sprow was born Aug. 29, 1921, in Oxford, N.C. After moving to Baltimore, she graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in 1938 and attended Bowie State University, graduating in 1942.

Mrs. Sprow later attended the University of Southern California for graduate studies and received a master’s degree in elementary education from Columbia University and a media specialist certification from the University of Maryland, College Park.

In 1947, she married Otis W. Sprow Sr. at Grace Presbyterian, and the couple had two children, Otis Jr. and Monica O’dell Sprow. Their house in Mondawmin burned down in 1963, killing her husband and their 6-year-old daughter, and Mrs. Sprow and her son moved back into her parents’ house nearby.

“That was tough,” said the younger Mr. Sprow, who was 14 at the time. “She found the motivation to keep going. She really loved my dad. It was unbelievable.”

Her parents provided solace and advice to their grieving daughter, urging her to find a way forward, he said.

When she wasn’t working in the classroom or the library, Mrs. Sprow filled her days with reading, traveling, church activities and the people around her. She loved entertaining friends and family at her home, Mr. Sprow said, adding: “Lighting was provided by her smile.”

After retirement, Mrs. Sprow became Moderator of Presbyterian Women for the city of Baltimore, a position that brought her into contact with many people in the region. She founded an organization at Grace Presbyterian called Dorcas, which was devoted to providing relief to the poor and downtrodden.

Mrs. Sprow led or participated in several social clubs, including Jack and Jill, which was devoted to children’s education. “The Pennies,” a penny poker game she organized, ran for more than 20 years. Mr. Sprow said he could always tell how she was doing by checking a large penny jar in her house.

“She was winning more than she was losing,” he said with a laugh.

Mrs. Sprow’s calendar was filled with index cards marking the birthdays of her friends and family, and she enjoyed exchanging birthday and holiday cards, even as her health declined in the past four years.

Yvette Livingston, a friend in Catonsville who met Mrs. Sprow through a mutual church friend at her 90th birthday party, was the one tasked with picking up a card for each upcoming birthday. She said she loved that duty, as well as the long drives with Mrs. Sprow to visit another friend in Carroll County.

“Spending time with her was like a blessing by itself,” Mrs. Livingston said. “What can I say about Mrs. Mary Sprow, except that I loved her so much and think about her every day? She just touched my heart.”

A service is scheduled at 11 a.m. on May 11 at Grace Presbyterian Church, 2604 Banister Road, with a repast beginning at 12:30 p.m.

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In addition to her son, Mrs. Sprow is survived by her sister, Bernadine Stephenson; two nieces and two nephews. In addition to her parents, husband and daughter, she was predeceased by her brother, Joseph S. Tyler, Jr.

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