Patricia Cook-Ferguson, a longtime Baltimore teacher and president of the Baltimore County NAACP known for wearing multiple hats in advocating for youth education and civil rights advancements, died Wednesday of complications from lung cancer. She was 56.
"She was the heart and soul of our chapter," said Tony Fugett, who as first vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter will assume Mrs. Cook-Ferguson's responsibilities.
Mrs. Cook-Ferguson had been ill for about a year, and was hospitalized about three weeks ago at Northwest Hospital, where she died in hospice care, said her son, Carlton Ferguson Jr.
The NAACP chapter described Mrs. Cook-Ferguson as an "ardent supporter of civil rights and equal justice," and she was lauded as a leader in the Baltimore Teachers Union and the American Federation of Teachers in Maryland, where she had held multiple positions.
"Pat cared deeply about people, and she fought fiercely to assure that everyone was treated fairly," BTU President Marietta English said in a statement. "She was a teacher, and an advocate for human rights, and a champion of justice for all."
Her death also brought condolences from influential African-American leaders such as Kweisi Mfume and from local political leaders such as Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, her son said.
"She was a dynamic force in advancing the lives of individuals in the community as well as the workplace," Mr. Kamenetz said in a statement.
Mrs. Cook-Ferguson was born in Queens, New York, the daughter of a World War II veteran who worked as a skycap at JFK Airport and a homemaker.
She attended Richmond Hill High School and then graduated from Queens College before earning a master's degree in special education from what is now Coppin State University.
She moved to Maryland in the late 1970s and began her teaching career, which lasted 33 years. Her most recent teaching position was as a special-education teacher at Garrison Middle School in the city.
Mrs. Cook-Ferguson was elected president of the Baltimore County NAACP in 1992. She left in 1998 amid infighting and accusations of shoddy recordkeeping within the organization and a directive from national NAACP officials that she not run for re-election because she hadn't paid dues since the previous year.
But she retained a position within the chapter's leadership and returned as its president in 2002.
"She had us on point on education issues, as it related to the school board and minorities on the school board. We were working with housing in Baltimore County, with police and issues of discrimination," Mr. Fugett said. "She was our leader, and she will be sorely missed."
Her son said her leadership of the family was equally dynamic.
"She was the rock who really put everything together," he said. "My mother was the family pillar, just like she is in the community. We got our foundations from her."
A funeral is scheduled at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at New Antioch Baptist Church, 5609 Old Court Road in Windsor Mill.
In addition to her mother, of Columbia, S.C., and son, of Randallstown, Mrs. Cook-Ferguson is survived by two other sons, Carl Ferguson and Collin Ferguson, both of Owings Mills; a brother, Evander Cook Sr., of Columbia, S.C.; five grandchildren; two nieces; and two nephews. A marriage to Carlton Ferguson Sr. ended in divorce.