Ruby Alma Keyes Couch, a retired physical education teacher known as the matriarch of the Hanlon neighborhood in West Baltimore, died Nov. 20 at her home on Mondawmin Avenue. She was 97.
No medical cause of death was available, family members said.
Born and raised in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, she was the daughter of George Washington Keyes, who owned a coal and ice business, and his wife, Julia, a homemaker. She was the youngest and the last survivor among four girls and nine boys. She graduated with honors from Atlantic Highlands High School and received a scholarship to what was then called Morgan State College.
While attending Morgan, she participated in numerous activities. She was a cheerleader — a recent Morgan publication hailed her as the school’s oldest cheerleader — and played intramural sports.
“My mother was known as an excellent athlete and played most sports,” said her son, Earl S. El-Amin.
In 1943 she was initiated into Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She graduated in 1945 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education.
She began teaching at Claflin College in Orangeburg, South Carolina, where she remained for two years and then moved on to the Newark School System in Newark, New Jersey.
In 1954 she began teaching physical education in the Baltimore City Schools. She also did graduate study at the Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland, College Park and what is now Towson University.
She retired in 1982 after teaching at Clifton Park, Robert Poole and General Henry Lee junior high schools.
She was baptized as a child at Saint Paul Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands. When she became a resident of Baltimore she joined Heritage United Church of Christ in Ashburton and was an active member in many of the church’s organizations.
In June 1950 she married Flan Couch Jr., a fellow Morgan student who was among the first African Americans to join the Baltimore City Police Department. He had also been a standout Morgan athlete.
“He was the love of her life since she met him at Morgan,” said her son. “When they married, Clarence “Big House” Gaines, the longtime men’s basketball coach at Winston-Salem University, and Joe Black, a pitcher who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and won a game in the 1952 World Series, were in their wedding party.”
They enjoyed 51 years of marriage. This union produced two sons, Earl Flannigan Couch III (Earl S. El-Amin) and Eric Conrad Couch (Eric El-Amin). The husband, who headed security at Morgan State, died in 2001, and Eric El-Amin died in 2002.
Mrs. Couch resided in Hanlon Park for 66 years and maintained a high profile in its community organization.
“My mother was the matriarch of the neighborhood,” her son said. “She only stopped driving this past Oct. 8.”
He also said: “She was known to be very frank and to the point. She believed that relationships should be open and honest, She disliked deceit, deviousness and deception in all their forms.”
In August she held a “Black Lives Matter” sign and was interviewed by a Sun reporter on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.
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“Sitting in a chair [on Gwynns Falls Parkway] and holding an umbrella with a sign reading ‘Black Lives Matter,’ Ruby Couch she said she felt compelled to lend her 97-year-old presence to the early evening gathering,” the article said.
“I said, ‘I have to come,’” she said in the story, which detailed how passing drivers honked and raised fists in solidarity.
Her son said his mother was committed to the quality of life in her neighborhood. She was a gardener and did crocheting and knitting, and for many years she conducted a knitting class at her church. In the later years, she played Sudoku and walked around Hanlon Park Reservoir every day.
“She lived her Christian life by serving God and living by the tenets of her faith: feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and donating to charity,” her son said.
A funeral will be held at noon Thursday at the March West Home at 4300 Wabash Ave.