Irene Bennett Reid, social worker and mother of former mayor, dies
Retired city Department of Social Services supervisor was mother of Kurt Schmoke and stepmother of the Rev. Frank Reid

By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

6:28 PM EST, January 11, 2011

Irene Bennett Reid, a retired social worker who was the mother of former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, died of lung cancer Tuesday at Sinai Hospital. She was 78 and lived in Northwest Baltimore.

Mrs. Reid was also the stepmother of the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

"You watched your grammar when you spoke to her," said Mr. Schmoke, who is dean of the Howard University School of Law. "She was an old-fashioned school marm, but was also an inspiring person. Her entire life was service-oriented, whether it was to her family, her church or to social service."

Born Irene Bennett in Wilcox County, Ala., she grew up in Albany, Ga. She attended Spelman College, where she met her future husband, Murray A. Schmoke Sr., a chemist. They moved to Baltimore, where she earned a psychology degree at Morgan State University. She received a master's degree in social work from the University of Pennsylvania in 1965. The Schmokes later divorced.

She joined the Baltimore City Department of Social Services and worked as a supervisor in foster care and adoptions.

"She was a force in her own right," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who worked alongside Mrs. Reid in the 1960s at the social services agency. "Nobody worked harder and stayed later than Irene did. She was devoted to children and was an advocate for their safety and security."

The senator said they became good friends and she soon heard about her son, Kurt, who was then a City College student.

"She was one mom to brag," the senator said. "She was a devoted mother."

In the 1960s, when Baltimore was a segregated city, Mrs. Reid was "an advocate of civil rights, desegregation and social justice," Senator Mikulski said. "We social workers spent many a Friday night in each other's homes because we could not go to segregated restaurants. We'd listen to records, have a beer and rant a little. Then Irene would look at her watch and say, 'I have to be home for Kurt.'"

In 1968, she married Bishop Frank Madison Reid Jr., who was elected as the 61st consecrated bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. They were assigned to the 14th Episcopal District and served in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria. They later lived in South Carolina and Alabama, where Bishop Reid served districts.

"She was a polished, elegant woman," said Larry Gibson, a University of Maryland Law School professor and family friend. "She was old-school and graceful. When you were in her presence, you wanted to pull yourself up and meet her standards."

Mrs. Reid worked with a women's shelter and a transitional housing program before her second husband's death in 1989. In retirement, she was a volunteer with the Foster Care Review Board of the African Episcopal Methodist Church, Board of Black Women's Agenda and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Mrs. Reid remained active with causes in Africa. Her son said that though diagnosed with cancer, she worked for the development of the Zion University of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Monrovia, Liberia, which she visited.

"She did an excellent job of helping organize the school," her son said.

City Council member Carl Stokes recalled Mrs. Reid as "a bundle of energy and joy."

The councilman said in a statement, "Her smile warmed your soul, even if you were having a bad day. She was the portrait of grace and she was such a proud mother. I can recall her telling me that she didn't take any credit for Mayor Schmoke or Dr. Reid's success. She said she put them both in the Lord's hands and He did the most important work."

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said, "Mrs. Reid left an indelible mark on the City of Baltimore through her work in the field of social services."

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Bethel AME Church, 1300 Druid Hill Ave. A family hour will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and a sorority service will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. A wake will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at the church.

In addition to her son and stepson, survivors include a daughter, Karla Reid Young of Baltimore; two stepdaughters, Vanessa Reid-Lewter of New Jersey and Stephanie Reid of Washington, D.C.; and four grandchildren. Another son, Murray A. Schmoke Jr., died in a 1994 traffic accident in South Africa, where he was teaching school.


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