Nora Lee Scanlan

Nora Lee Scanlan

Nora Lee Scanlan, a retired Howard County public school guidance counselor and newspaper columnist, died Sept. 22 of breast cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Columbia.

She was 71.


Born in Seattle and raised in St. Paul, Minn., Ms. Scanlan was a 1958 graduate of Our Lady of Peace High School.

She entered the Sisters of Charity that year in Belrose, N.Y., and remained in the order for a decade before leaving in 1968.


She earned a bachelor's degree in 1963 from Mundelein College in Chicago and a master's degree in 1967 from Queens College in Flushing, N.Y.

Ms. Scanlan taught at schools in Minnesota and New Jersey before joining Howard County public schools. She was a guidance counselor for 20 years at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia. She retired in 2002.

"She was my guidance counselor many years ago," said Laura Oldham, who teaches at Fifth District Elementary School in Upperco, Baltimore County.

"I was always struck by the vibrancy of her spirit and that she believed in me. She had a conviction and could see what you could be. And after high school, we developed a great friendship," said Ms. Oldham, who graduated from Wilde Lake in 1986.

Ms. Oldham said former students looked forward to seeing Ms. Scanlan, who was a popular figure at Wilde Lake, at an annual picnic.

"She had a great love of people, and through her relations and connections could make a difference in a student's life," she said.

She described Mrs. Scanlan as an engaging conversationalist.

"She never had enough time — we'd talk about family, books, grandchildren, the world situation — and she'd end her side of the conversation by saying, 'to be continued.'"


A longtime Columbia resident, Ms. Scanlan wrote "Counselor's Corner" and other educational articles for the Columbia Flier and Howard County Times for more than two decades.

"She was a wonderful friend who was always available. Children were able to talk to her about anything," said Roselle J. Commins, a longtime friend.

"My husband, Sam, who was also a guidance counselor at Wilde Lake, and I have known Nora since 1970. In those days, there were only two high schools, Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills, so she was a well-known person in Columbia," said Anna Nissen. "She was the kind of person who did lots of work and made it look easy."

In addition to her work at Wilde Lake, Ms. Scanlan also taught in the nursing program at Howard Community College and helped establish the Rouse Scholars Program there. She was a member of the school's nursing board.

Ms. Scanlan was an active member of the Columbia Foundation and Women's Giving Circle of Howard County, and volunteered with Beans and Bread, a Fells Point soup kitchen.

Ms. Scanlan's breast cancer, which was diagnosed in 1984, was in remission until 2004, when it returned. She was an advisory board member of the Claudia Mayer Cancer Center. She also appeared in a PBS special on cancer survivors.


A year before she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Ms. Scanlan co-led the Reach for Recovery, a Howard County breast cancer support group.

"She persevered through all the things that came to her in life. She was a very strong person," Ms. Commins said.

Ms. Scanlan and her husband of 24 years, Ronald Mayer, spent three months every summer for eight years at Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks assisting park rangers on hikes.

She climbed Mount Rainier, rafted on the Snake River several times, and canoed and cross-country skied in the Boundary Waters region in upper Minnesota. She enjoyed traveling to Alaska and Tasmania.

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She was a longtime member of the Maryland Mountain Club.

Ms. Scanlan studied Irish step-dancing and participated in Mid-Atlantic competitions. She marched in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, where she was a balloon handler for Horton the Elephant.


An avid reader, she was co-founder 12 years ago of Shirley Valentine's Book Club.

Ms. Scanlan was a member of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 15 at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center, 10431 Twin Rivers Road in Columbia.

In addition to her husband, who retired from the Social Security Administration where he worked for 32 years in information technology, Ms. Scanlan is survived by two sons, Matthew Hunt of San Diego and Nathan Hunt of Cleveland; a stepson, David Mayer of Clarksville; a stepdaughter, Wendy Hillock of Homer Glen, Ill.; two brothers, Malachy Scanlan and Mike Scanlan, both of St. Paul; a sister, Kathleen Tschida of St. Paul; and five grandchildren. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.