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Roxanne Kirkland, first female pressman to retire from The Baltimore Sun, dies

Roxanne Kirkland enjoyed celebrating Halloween and Christmas with her family.
Roxanne Kirkland enjoyed celebrating Halloween and Christmas with her family. (Handout/HANDOUT)

The way Roxanne McGraw Brown remembers it, her mother initially wanted to give her a different name. But when Roxanne Kirkland told her parents that she wanted to name her unborn daughter, Rebecca Lisa McGraw, her father objected.

So Mrs. Kirkland gave her first name to her daughter. “I guess she had no other name when my grandfather told her not to name me that,” Mrs. Brown said with a laugh.

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The name fits, Mrs. Brown said. “A lot of people called her ‘Rock,’ and they called me ‘Little Rock,’” she said. “So they would say to me, ‘Hey, Little Rock,’ or ‘Come here, Little Rock,’ or ‘How you doing, Little Rock?’ And they always say that I look just like my mother.”

Mrs. Kirkland, who worked in The Baltimore Sun’s printing plant for 34 years and was the first female pressman to retire from the newspaper, died June 19 at her sister’s home in Baltimore due to cancer. She was 66.

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Michael Ball, a pressman who knew Mrs. Kirkland for the past 34 years, spent time with her the morning of her death.

“She heard us,” he said. “She moved, she opened up her eyes a little bit, and everybody got a chance to pray with her and hug on her. I got a chance to hug on her and I prayed over her and I kissed her. Then I got word that night that she went on home.”

The former Roxanne Byers was the second of four daughters born to Wilbert and Ida Mae Byers. The family grew up in East Baltimore, and Ms. Kirkland graduated from Dunbar High School.

She and Gregory Peck McGraw Sr. met and raised two children, Roxanne McGraw and Gregory Peck McGraw Jr., who died in 1994. The couple did not marry.

While working on the assembly line at Globe Manufacturing Corp., a window blinds company on East Federal Street, she met Leroy Kirkland Sr., a forklift operator in the warehouse. After dating for two years, they married Nov. 20, 1981.

“Being at the same job, we saw each other a lot,” Mr. Kirkland said. “We just started talking and getting to know each other and stuff like that. And on the weekends, everybody would get together, and we got to talking.”

Mrs. Kirkland worked at The Sun from Feb. 18, 1984, until she accepted a buyout on Aug. 25, 2018. Her husband said she enjoyed the work so much that she hated to be late.

“One time, we got caught in traffic downtown, and she started crying because she was afraid that she wouldn’t get there on time,” he said. “She’d be mad at me sometimes if I didn’t get her to work on time. She’d say, ‘I’ve got to be at work in time. So come on, come on, you’ve got to hurry up.’ ”

Mr. Ball said Mrs. Kirkland helped load and prepare the paper rolls for printing and monitored the addition of colors to the newspaper. He said she was nicknamed “Hot Dog Lady” for organizing hot dog cookouts on Saturday nights outside the plant and “Roxanne the Cleaning Lady” for her meticulous care of the employees’ refrigerator in the break room.

Mr. Ball said Mrs. Kirkland earned the respect of her male colleagues.

“It’s been a predominantly male trade for so long,” he acknowledged. “But it all depends on the perseverance of the woman, whether she has the heart to do the job — which Roxanne did. She put her mind to it, she did her job, she got her training years back. So it’s not too hard for a woman as long as she’s got the determination and the will and the drive to do the job.”

Mrs. Brown began working at the newspaper’s mailroom when she was 25 in 1999, on the advice of one of her mother’s friends.

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“When I started, my mother asked me if I wanted to come work in the pressroom,” said Mrs. Brown, who continues to work in the company’s packaging department, receiving trucks and unloading them. “I told her no because of the ink and I didn’t really want to work with my mother.”

Mrs. Brown said her mother loved holidays, but especially Halloween and Christmas. She hung witches in the windows and masks in the family room of their home in Baltimore.

She collected dolls from “The Nutcracker,” adorned the family room with Christmas lights, hung wreaths, and frequently played “Silent Night” sung by The Temptations. But she saved most of her energy for buying toys that delighted her children.

“I remember that she gave us the best Christmases,” Mrs. Brown said, recalling unwrapping boxes with new Barbie dolls inside. “The living room was packed with toys. She just made sure that my brother and me did not want for anything.”

Asked why her mother splurged for Christmas, Mrs. Brown replied, “My mother always said that growing up, she didn’t have a lot. So when she had kids, she said she was going to give them everything and provide for them.”

Mr. Kirkland said his wife enjoyed watching movies, especially Westerns, and going to the occasional nightclub. After she left The Sun, the couple gained custody of their great-niece, Tamantha, who is now 7 years old.

“We took custody of her to keep her from going into the system and stuff like that,” he said. “We wanted to keep her in the family.”

Mr. Kirkland said his wife was diagnosed in late January with a tumor in her bowels that spread to her gall bladder and liver. He said the pain was at times unbearable.

“I really hated to see her suffer the way she did,” he said. “That was the love of my life, and she still is and always will be. … I still hate talking about it because I break down.”

A viewing for Mrs. Kirkland will take place Tuesday at the Calvin B. Scruggs Funeral Home in Baltimore from 2 to 3 p.m. for immediate family and 3-7 p.m. for other family members and friends. A funeral on Wednesday at Mount Sinai Church of Christ in Baltimore is scheduled for 11 a.m. Her remains will be cremated.

In addition to her husband and her daughter, Mrs. Brown is survived by her stepson, Leroy Kirkland III of Baltimore; three sisters, Stella Sykes, Loretta Byers and Ida Mae Fliggins of Baltimore; one granddaughter and one great-grandson.

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