Phoebe Edna Buchanan, a former London Fog seamstress who achieved an ambition of graduating from college at age 86, died of COVID-19 on Dec. 12 at Northwest Hospital Center. She was 97 and lived in West Forest Park.
Born in Allendale, South Carolina, she was the fifth of seven children raised by James Habersham and his wife, Addie Louise Habersham.
“She was born in a Christian family whose members believed strongly in serving God,” said her great-niece, Mia Thompson-Eley. “Her parents died when they were both young, and she was raised by her aunt and older siblings. They were a close-knit family.”
When her brothers and sisters decided to leave North Carolina and to migrate north, she left with them. She stayed for a while in New York City and soon moved to Baltimore, where she attended city public schools.
“I admired my aunt. For someone of that era, and an African American woman, she had plenty of ingenuity,” her great-niece said. “She faced obstacles and she had the fortitude to reach her goals.”
Ms. Buchanan became a licensed practical nurse and trained at the old St. Paul School of Nursing at the St. Paul Institute.
She received a nursing certificate and began working at area medical institutions.
She married Robert E. Buchanan Jr., a Bethlehem Steel tin mill worker.
After raising two sons, she felt she wanted to get out of the house.
“She knew she needed to take her talent and find something she liked to do that provided a little something,” Mrs. Thompson-Eley said. “She had a saying, ‘Don’t let the grass grow under your feet.’ She was a feisty woman. She was determined and resourceful.”
Her great-niece also said, “If she had a serious issue, she wasn’t afraid to go to Legal Aid for their help.”
She applied for a job at London Fog and was soon working at its Woodberry headquarters at what is now the Meadow Mill. She spent 30 years with the firm that made men’s and women’s rainwear. When the plant moved to Eldersburg, she went with her fellow workers.
After 30 years at London Fog, Ms. Buchanan retired but said she was not done leaving her mark upon the world.
After she stopped driving she took buses to work at a grandparents program sponsored by the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice. She worked at the George W.F. McMechen Junior-Senior High School on Garrison Boulevard.
“She was small stature but she could go up against a bear,” said Marlene Smith, who retired as a guidance counselor at the school. “She had a quiet way of working with students, students who had problems following directions ... students who may have had disabilities. She could bring them in with using a different technique.
“She never missed a day. She was an awesome lady who was not always in the forefront, but she was good.”
While in her 80s, she applied for and received state educational financial aid. She reenrolled at Coppin State University on a program through the Commission on Higher Education for Maryland Seniors to finish taking classes toward a degree she had started in the 1970s.
“Her grit and determination enabled her to complete her coursework and graduate at the ripe age of 86 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in interdisciplinary studies,” Mrs. Thompson-Eley said.
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“She didn’t like movies or TV,” said her great-niece. “She liked going to a church service and then teaching the word.”
“She left a lasting impression on anyone who crossed her path,” said her great-niece. “Whether it be for her having to straighten you out, her resourcefulness, determination ... she will be remembered and revered.”
She was an accomplished baker known for her sweet potato pies and pound cake. She gardened and raised vegetables and cultivated numerous colorful cannas in a garden in front of her home. She liked bright summer colors — yellow, red and orange blossoms.