Susan F. Garten, who brought her innate sense of taste and an enthusiasm as owner of Heirloom Jewels in Cross Keys, died Feb. 24 from a heart condition at her condominium in the Colonnade in the city’s Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood.
The former longtime resident of Englemeade Road in Pikesville was 89.
“Sue was one of a kind who had a big, soft heart and a passion for beautiful things,” said Renee Wilson of Anneslie, Mrs. Garten’s store manager. “I’ve never in my life known anyone like her in my life. She really was a woman of great taste and liked being surrounded by beautiful things.”
The former Susan Fedder, who was born in Baltimore and raised on Roslyn Avenue in Windsor Hills, was the daughter of Morris Fedder, a tax lawyer and founder of what would become Fedder & Garten, and his wife, Bess Fedder, a homemaker.
After attending Forest Park High School and graduating in 1947 from the Park School, Mrs. Garten decided to get a teaching degree at what was then Towson State Teachers College, which required her to ride three streetcars and a bus to reach class by 8 a.m.
In 1947, she met Herbert S. Garten, who was in a seven-week advanced ROTC training program at Fort Meade, on a blind date.
They fell in love, and as he returned to Syracuse University for his senior year they took turns visiting each other, and finally married in 1949. At that time, her husband was at the University of Maryland Law School, from which he graduated in 1951.
When it came time for Mrs. Garten to receive her teaching diploma in 1951 from Towson, she was expecting her first child when a letter arrived from the dean saying that she could nor graduate with her class or participate in any aspect of the graduation program.
“Because of your present advanced stage of pregnancy, I am confident that you have no serious intentions of attempting to participate in the academic processions at Baccalaureate and Commencement,” wrote Dean Dowell, who was, ironically, a woman.
“You must realize that participation would be unwise from several points of view. … In making plans for the academic processions and related matters, no place will be made for you. Likewise, you will not appear in person on the stage of the auditorium to receive your diploma,” the dean wrote.
“It was my mother who was heartbroken, and that really affected me the most,” Mrs. Garten explained in a 2010 interview with The Baltimore Sun, just before she crossed the stage to participate in commencement exercises that had been denied her 59 years earlier.
Mrs. Garten did substitute teaching briefly, but mainly focused on supporting her husband’s legal career and raising their five children.
Mrs. Garten, who enjoyed collecting antiques with which she furnished her home, quite often patronized an antiques shop in Stevenson, when one day in the early 1970s one of the owners approached her.
“‘Here’s the key to the store. You have more merchandise than we do. My partner is not paying attention. I’m going to wind up in jail if I don’t give up the store,’” Mrs. Garten said in a 2016 interview with Towson University’s Teacher Education Oral History Project.
“ ’I can’t run it. There’s not enough coming in. But I think you’ll be able to do that.’ I looked at her, I couldn’t believe it. Unexpectedly, I was a shopkeeper,” she said.
Mrs. Garten, whose focus was on antique and estate jewelry, named the store Heirloom Jewels, and moved to Pomona Square in Pikesville before settling in Cross Keys.
Celebrities often called on Mrs. Garten’s shop.
“Whoopi Goldberg. Somebody called one day. It was pouring down rain, no customers, horrible,” Mrs. Garten said in the Towson University interview.
“And the phone rings. And she says, ‘This is Whoopi Goldberg. I’d like to come shop with you.’ And I said, ‘Sure.’ She said, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow mornin, but I don’t want you to have anyone else in the shop when I come in.’ The next morning, we got coffee and buns and candy and all these sandwiches and all, and she came in.”
Mrs. Garten said that the comic and movie star “bought beautifully. I was thrilled.”
She added: “And then came back another time she was in Baltimore making movies. You know, always one thing in your life that is very different and a marvelous memory.”
She scoured flea markets and antiques shops — even in Aspen, Colo., — seeking inventory, which she had a hard time parting with sometimes because she was also a collector.
“I was an artist with no experience when I applied for a job in 1989,” Ms. Wilson recalled. “Sue taught me how to tell gold from gold-filled jewelry, which was by smell and feel. She taught me how to look at it and how it was made. She was a real mentor, and I learned everything about this business from Sue.”
Regarding Mrs. Garten’s whirlwind buying trips, Ms. Wilson, now the owner of Bijoux Jewels, an estate and vintage jewelry store in Roland Park, said, “She was happy buying and I was happy selling.”
She said that one of Mrs. Garten’s favorite sayings was “Man plans, God laughs.”
In addition to her husband of 69 years, she is survived by two sons, Morris L. “Maury” Garten of Pikesville and Alan E.M. Garten of Guilford; a daughter Ilene S. Garten of Timonium; eight grandchildren; and seven great-great children. Another son, Lawrence M. Garten died in 2006; and a daughter, Lynne M. Garten, died in 1966.