Eight Over 80 is a four-part series. Check in Tuesday and Thursday this week and next for profiles of vital seniors who daily pursue activism, art, science and more with huge vigor. Meanwhile, they make Baltimore a far more inspiring place to live. – The Eds.
Photographs by Anne Sachs.
In the case of eight Baltimoreans, age 80 seems to be the new 64. These eight men and women remain active in work and in Baltimore. Although official retirees, they could hardly be considered “retired.”
While Americans are often labeled workaholics, these eight fall into another category. They are still following their passions, passions born sometimes in childhood, others at mid-career. All have received numerous awards for their achievements, some honorary doctorates. While they say they have slowed down physically, all push themselves with regular exercise. All are fully engaged mentally.
Most, in the course of their lives, have had to overcome discrimination because of race, creed or gender. One of these giants said of his peers, “We were fortunate. The world changed so much in our lifetime.”
Three are over 90 and were alive during World War I. All lived through the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the civil rights movement. These eight have experienced the proliferation of the automobile, air travel and computers. They are connected to a world and to times that most of us alive today have not known. Our Baltimore is different because of their work in the past and their work today.
Marion Curtis Bascom
D.O.B.: March 14, 1925, Pensacola, Florida
Education: Washington High School,’42, Florida Memorial College ’46,
Howard University, B.D. ’48
Career, Present and Past:
The legendary civil rights leader Reverend Marion Bascom continues, in an interpersonal way, his lifelong work for peace, equality and human rights. “I am counsel to a lot of people, a personal counselor, dealing with problems of people living together and with each other…I’m broadly humanitarian. I have no problems with lifestyles. One of my professors said often, ‘Only God knows what comes in one’s birthday basket.’ I’ve taken that for all of these years. I’m very much on the path with John Spong, retired bishop of the Episcopal Church. I’m not a typical Christian. I don’t make demands on how, when and under what circumstances people believe, God included. That’s one I’m free of.”
For 46 years as pastor of the historic Douglas Memorial Community Church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Bascom, now 86, says, “I was concerned more with causes than huge places.” Under his leadership Douglas established the first church credit union in Maryland (Douglas Memorial Federal Credit Union), turned a block of decaying Victorian houses into Douglas Village with 48 affordable apartment units and founded Camp Farthest Out, a Carroll County camp for inner city children — all revolutionary efforts at the time. Also revolutionary was the fact that Bascom in the 1960’s was appointed the first African-American on the Board of Fire Commissioners of Baltimore City.
From the garden-surrounded Reservoir Hill home, where he has lived almost half a century, Bascom continues to shepherd people of all races and orientation. He still works with the organization he once lead, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, an interfaith group of all races. A proponent of social activism, this group helped found the Maryland Food Committee and spawned today’s powerful BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development).
“Occasionally, I get involved still in things that are civic,” says Bascom. At 82, for example, he joined friends author Taylor Branch, Reverend Andrew Foster Connors and thousands of others at the 2007 Christian Peace Witness in Washington. On a windy, bone-chilling day he was one of 200 arrested. “I got the worst cold,” he remembers. He hasn’t marched lately but continues, as always, focused on people.
Key to Longevity of Engagement: In his living room Bascom pauses by signs that say: “Colored Served in Rear,” “Colored Only,” “Colored Waiting Room.” With characteristic dignity he reflects: “The key is that all of my life I have known that there is something of the ‘thatness’ of God in me very similar to the ‘thatness’ of all of His other creatures.”
Current Challenge: Personally: “I am caregiver to my wife; she is my caregiver.” His ongoing challenge: “To improve the surrounding community of which I’m a part.”
Susan Pardee Baker
D.O.B.: May 31, 1930, Atlanta, Georgia
Education: Catonsville High School, ’47; Cornell University ’51; Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, M.P.H. ’68, Phi Beta Kappa
Career, Present and Past:
On the porch of the Broadmead apartment Dr. Susan P. Baker shares with her husband of 60 years, Dr. Timothy Baker, a visitor might guess from the perennial gardens and birds flocking to feeders that she might be a retired botanist. No, she is a Hopkins professor with an affiliation in three departments, an internationally recognized epidemiologist and leader in human injury prevention. She leaves this Eden with her husband, professor of international health and former assistant dean, four days a week to go to their offices at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The two work until five, then pick up dinner at the Broadmead Center. “After dinner I sit at the computer and do more work,” she says. While her husband works five days a week, she takes off a day to garden, catch up on correspondence and take advantage of many fine friendships.
A zoology major at Cornell, Baker became an epidemiologist at age 38, after marrying and having three children. She fell into the public health specialty she pioneered, the epidemiology of injury. “It felt like an accident looking for a place to happen,” jokes this soft-spoken, now renowned professor of Health Policy and Management and former advisor to the World Health Organization.
After her husband suggested she look at the relationship between accidents and chronic disease, Baker began a 20-year study of the relationship between alcohol and automobile crashes. “Although 50,000 people died every year, no one at Hopkins was doing any kind of injury prevention.”
Later, her groundbreaking research in occupational, aeronautical and motor vehicle safety prompted not only the requirement for car safety seats for children and helmets for motorcyclists but also the Center for Disease Control in 1987 to fund three centers for injury prevention and control. Baker was the founder and first director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy. There are now a dozen such centers in the U.S.
Last year she became the only injury control researcher ever to receive the prestigious Frank A. Calderone Prize from Columbia University. What she considers her greatest achievements, however, are scores of students she’s taught, “four academic generations who look at ways we can change things.”
A book she recently finished editing, on injury research methods with 35 experts from all over the world, will soon be published. For her next project she will examine “something that’s falling through the cracks. That’s been the hallmark of my research.”
Key to Longevity of Engagement: “A job that’s fun, interesting and exciting. Ditto: a husband who is the same…. I’ve had a lot of opportunities and encouragement, first from my husband.… As a colleague once said, ‘I’m on a very small raft. There’s no one on it. Welcome aboard.’”
Current Challenge: “Always the challenge is people who have a vested interest and who are not interested in changing but in keeping things the same. I am an advocate of putting good data to good use.”