Rosa L. Barber, a Northeast Baltimore community leader who had worked for the city Office of Employment Development, died May 20 at her Lakeside home. She was 94.
“She was just a wonderful, wonderful woman,” said Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young. “She was a godsent woman who made sure we stayed on the right track.”
Said Baltimore Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, a Tuscany-Canterbury resident: “Mother Barber was the mother of us all. She was a driving force for her family, neighborhood, and for the good of us all. She was a lovely lady who was active until she passed to her reward. And now, she is conferring with her friends and family in heaven and rearranging things while keeping an eye on Ednor Gardens-Lakeside.”
The former Rosa Lee Mayfield, daughter of Willie Mayfield, and his wife, Rosie Dye Mayfield, farmers who also owned a taxi company, was born and raised in Chester, South Carolina.
In 1940, she was crowned Chester County May Day Queen. She was a 1941 graduate of Finley High School, where she met and fell in love with Jay S. Barber Sr., a star football player. The couple married that year and moved to Baltimore where they raised their seven children.
Mrs. Barber’s path to becoming a neighborhood activist began when her children were attending Collington Square Elementary School and she became active in its PTA, eventually serving as president.
“And it grew from there and her activism is in my DNA,” said a daughter, Karenthia A. Barber, of Lakeside, former president of the Ednor Gardens-Lakeside Civic Association," Ms. Barber said.
“She then became president of the Collington Square Community Association and served on the executive board of the Ednor Gardens-Lakeside Civic Association where she chaired membership, hospitality and community cleanups. Mom loved Baltimore.”
Said Ms. Clarke: “Karenthia lived next door to her mom who helped guide her hand when she became a neighborhood activist. Rosa came to all neighborhood events to make sure they were running properly.”
Because of her activism, Mayor William Donald Schaefer appointed Mrs. Barber community liaison at the Baltimore Mayor’s Station in the Oliver neighborhood. Later she became an employment coordinator for the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, a position she held until retiring in 1994.
“She became widely known for providing jobs for countless youth throughout the city,” her daughter said.
“She made sure young people like me got summer employment,” Mr. Young recalled. “I guess I was 16 or 17 when I got to know her, and she helped hundreds and hundreds of people get jobs. She was just a great person.”
Mrs. Barber volunteered as a site coordinator for the Maryland Food Bank’s East Baltimore operation. In her retirement, Mrs. Barber was a volunteer chaperone-coach for the Cecil Kirk Amateur Athletic Union basketball program where she mentored youth and escorted them to tournaments throughout the nation.
For her work, she received governor and mayor citations and was named a Top Baltimore Mom. She was a member of the Berean Sisters and an active member of the Red Hatters of Govans.
Mrs. Barber who was known as much for her Southern hospitality as she was for her platters of fried chicken, sweet potato pies and apple cobblers, presided over a home whose door was always open and welcoming to family and friends.
“She created safe spaces for all no matter their circumstances and became the confidant, counselor, spiritual adviser and ‘Mother’ to many,” her daughter wrote in a biographical profile of her mother.
“Fondly known as ‘Mother Rosa,’ her infectious smile and godly spirit inspired, encouraged and impacted multi-generations. Her impact on others was broad and deep, touching the lives of everyone she encountered. Mother was the epitome of grace, elegance, dignity and love. Known for her elegant, regal and impeccable style with fashionable hats, she set the standard of how we represent our family.”
Mrs. Barber’s Christian journey began when she was a child and was a member of Piney Grove Baptist Church and New Hope Baptist Church, both in her hometown.
When she moved to Baltimore in 1941, she became a member of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, and remained active at the church until her death. She had been a member of the Trustee Aides, Pastor’s Aide, Interior Design Team and participated in the Culinary Arts Ministry, Silver Saints, and sang with the Vocal Choir.
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Mrs. Barber who enjoyed traveling and taking cruises, considered her visit to the Holy Land with her family and where she was baptized in the River Jordan, a highlight of her life.
Her husband, who was an official of the International Longshoreman’s Association, died in 1993.
“Mother Barber was love, exuded love and shared love with everyone,” her daughter wrote. “Mother enjoyed a blessed life rich in experiences and relationships. She was blessed to have a wide circle of friends of all ages who she would talk with regularly and pray with.”
Ms. Barber added: “Mother Barber’s life was a testament to the goodness of God.”
Funeral services were held Monday at the Wylie Funeral Home in Randallstown.
In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Barber is survived by four sons, Jay S. Barber Jr. of Bowie, Dr. Willie L. Barber of Northwood, Wilbert “George” Barber of Hereford and Kevin D. Barber of Carney; two other daughters, Shirley Barber of Woodlands ar Coldspring, and Juanita Chandler of Parkville; a sister, Willa Twitty of Washington; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.