Susan K. Macfarlane, a civic activist who supported the building of Thanksgiving Place at Stadium Place, dies
Susan K. Macfarlane enjoyed visiting the great opera houses in New York, London, Paris, Vienna, Zurich and Beijing. (Handout)
By Frederick N. Rasmussen Baltimore Sun Sep 12, 2022, at 5:00 am
Susan K. Macfarlane, a longtime civic activist whose interests ranged from the antiwar movement to supporting the building of Thanksgiving Place at Stadium Place on the site of the old Memorial Stadium, died Aug. 2 at her Roland Park Place home. She was 90.
No cause of death was available.
“Susan was always very sharp in terms of her thinking and was a very warm person,” said Gary G. Gillespie, former executive director and current board member of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council.
The former Susan Kemp Passano, daughter of William Moore Passano Sr., chairman and CEO of Waverly Inc., which was the successor corporation of both Waverly Press and Williams & Wilkins Co., and Ida Kemp Cockey, was born in Baltimore and raised in the Tuscany Apartments.
She was a 1950 graduate of Roland Park Country School and made her debut that year at the Bachelors Cotillon. After graduating from Mount Holyoke College in 1954, Mrs. Passano taught elementary school for two years in Baltimore County Public Schools. She also did postgraduate work at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
In 1956, she married her college sweetheart, Samuel G. Macfarlane, and the couple settled in Hartford, Connecticut, where he worked in the underwriting department of the Travelers Insurance Co. and she taught second grade at a school in East Hartford.
The couple returned to Baltimore in 1959 when her father persuaded her husband to join the family business. He studied accounting in the evening at the Johns Hopkins University and became a certified public accountant, and eventually chief financial officer of Williams & Wilkins and Waverly Press.
Mrs. Macfarlane was able to raise her three children while pursuing her activism.
Interested in the needs of older adults, Mrs. Macfarlane taught and developed programs at the old Metropolitan Senior Citizens Center, a pilot project for today’s Waxter Senior Center, from 1963 to 1970, while also serving on the center’s board. In the mid-1970s, she was a member of the board of Over 60 Employment Counseling Service.
In 1976, she became director of the Action in Maturity project, part of the Greater Homewood Community Corp., where she oversaw programs and services for older adults at six locations in Greater Homewood, including a neighborhood senior center.
Mrs. Macfarlane also planned and secured funding for a 15-passenger minibus that traveled over six routes a day for older adults.
Her activism and advocacy also included pushing for recycling in Baltimore. She lent her expertise to Roland Park Country School; Friends School; the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council; Emmanuel Episcopal Church; First Church of Christ, Scientist; the Passano Foundation; and Junior League of Baltimore, for which she served as president from 1970 to 1971.
She was a longtime antiwar advocate beginning with the Vietnam War.
“Susie also attended a House Un-American Activities Committee hearing where women testified against atomic bomb testing and the fallout from Strontium 90 in milk,” according to a biographical profile submitted by her family. “She remembered it as an amazing experience where the mothers who testified were vilified by the committee as being un-American.”
As the U.S. drifted toward war with Iraq in 2003, Mrs. Macfarlane created red and blue buttons that said, “Women Opposing War,” also known as WOW buttons. One woman called from Massachusetts to request 100.
Saddened by the start of the war, Mrs. Macfarlane told The Sun in 2003 that she was encouraged by the number of people across the country who had spoken up for peace in recent months.
In the boxes of buttons, she included copies of a letter she’d written asking wearers to “pray for peace and avoid anger,” The Sun reported.
Susan K. Macfarlane was a longtime antiwar advocate beginning with the Vietnam War. (Jed Kirschbaum)
“We cannot ask George Bush to be patient, restrained and compassionate if we are not expressing these same qualities ourselves,” she wrote.
Mr. Gillespie said that Mrs. Macfarlane was “so very active in her support of ecumenical work” and as a board member of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council that she formed a strong connection with the Rev. John R. “Jack” Sharp, who had been pastor of Govans Presbyterian Church and shared her views regarding social justice and sustainable housing.
Dr. Sharp was a founder of what would become Govans Ecumenical Development Corp., which became deeply involved with the redevelopment of the old Memorial Stadium site on 33rd Street, demolished in 2002.
Church communities and neighborhood associations joined GEDCO in the project, which became Stadium Place, a $50 million, mixed-income and affordable life care community that includes a YMCA branch. The first building was opened to residents in 2004.
It was a trip to Dallas, when she visited Thanks-Giving Square, a meditation garden, that convinced Mrs. Macfarlane that Stadium Place should have a sacred place for people to meditate, reflect and give thanks.
“The CMEC was a strong supporter of Stadium Place, and this really was Susie’s thing,” Mr. Gillespie said. “The whole thing was a big project.”
The plan became known as ThanksGiving Place’s Labyrinth, which, when completed, would have “two cherry tree groves, bells sounded by keyboard-controlled hammers, wooden benches, ivy-covered colonnades and plaques etched with Memorial Stadium memories,” The Sun reported.
“What you’re doing is moving from material thought to having someone identify themselves spiritually,” Mrs. Macfarlane told the newspaper in a 2004 interview. “Prayer is really listening to see how thought is changing.”
Mrs. Macfarlane had been a longtime active communicant of Emmanuel Episcopal Church but for the last 45 years of her life had been a devout follower of Christian Science and a member of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, where she was a practitioner and assisted people who were seeking healing.
She and her husband shared a love of opera and were both supporters of the Baltimore Opera Company and its Young Artists program. To help raise money to support the opera company and to introduce children to the lyrical and spectral beauty of opera, she had designed, recorded and manufactured two singing opera bears: Escamillo and Violetta.
The couple enjoyed visiting the great opera houses in New York, London, Paris, Vienna, Zurich and Beijing. For years, they regularly attended the Chautauqua Institute in upstate New York and liked visiting their two favorite beach destinations, Bethany Beach, Delaware, and Westport Point, Massachusetts.
Mrs. Macfarlane was a member of the Elkridge Club and an avid tennis player and golfer; she continued to play competitively into her 80s.
Her husband died in 2020, and because of the coronavirus pandemic, no services were held at the time.
A celebration-of-life gathering for the couple will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 20 at Stony Run Friends Meeting at 5116 N. Charles St..
They are survived by two sons, David G. Macfarlane of Hampden and James P. Macfarlane of Ruxton; a daughter, Margaret M. “Margie” Long of Guilford; a brother, William M. Passano Jr. of Towson; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandsons.