On Sunday, September 7, the Baltimore Ethical Society honored the August 18 death of longtime member Helena Wright with “A Celebration of Her Life.”
Fritz Williams, BES leader emeritus, opened the service by sharing memories, many from the various occasions when he and his wife Belva spent time with Helena, especially in her later years. Helena loved the music that Fritz and Belva enlivened their visits with, and as part of the celebration Fritz offered a fine rendering of “The Rose” in her memory.
Many spoke of how Helena was brought into the Society by the redoubtable Marian Banfield, a founding BES member, remembered also for guidance in shaping its Sunday school. Educating ran in Helena’s blood. In the early 1950s, she brought her experience as a Baltimore principal and elementary school to the children of BES. Kirk Mullen and Karen Elliott, both active in teaching for and coordinating our Sunday school praised Helena as “an educator extraordinaire,” a woman who “was always a teacher by nature” as well as professionally. Nancy Isaacs, a member of BES in its early decades, recalled having Helena as her Sunday school teacher: she was “a pillar, a kind and stable force.”
Long-time member Ron Solomon remembered Helena as “always very forthcoming about her Ethical Society membership and how she believed that the values by which she lived her life…were formed and enhanced by the Ethical Society’s principles.” Helena, in later years, also attended a bible study group at the Heritage United Church of Christ. Solomon recollected the importance to Helena of attending BES Sunday platforms and how in the talkback sessions afterward she often revealed “how much she enjoyed questioning things in quite provocative ways” and spoke of the minister who oversaw the study group privately praising her contributions and wishing that his position didn’t limit what he said. Emphatically, Solomon recalled that “Helena was very clear throughout her adult life both at the church and everywhere else that the Baltimore Ethical Society was her ‘church.’” His sense of Helena’s allegiance was echoed by Helena’s daughter Vonita, who herself attended BES Sunday school. Many remember Vonita at BES events helping her mother along in her waning days. Both mother and daughter joined other early BES Sunday schoolers – teachers and students – to share experiences at our 60th anniversary event two years ago.
Helena’s adherence to Felix Adler’s principle of bringing out the best in the individual was much admired. Elliott mused that Helena “saw the beauty within us,” and long-time member Ron Solomon emphasized that “She fully believed in the inherent worth of every human being.” When BES leader Hugh Taft-Morales officiated at a Saturday September 6 service for Helena at The Forum on Primrose Avenue, he noted that Helena “appreciated that human beings are of inherent worth, each and every person filled with the potential to do good. If guided well, almost all of us could do the right thing.”
The particulars of Helena’s life may be found in a fine obituary published in The Baltimore Sun and reprinted in The Orlando Sentinel. Those of us at BES will miss her presence at our platforms, in our groups, during the change of seasons (particularly the pancake breakfast), will miss her – as Kirk remembers – being appreciated by our Sunday school children with handmade gifts.
Helena was 93 this year, but her milestone birthday on July 18 might have occurred last year. BES president Emil Volcheck wrote to the BES Dialogue that he had spoken to Helena and her son Craig. Helena was weak though without pain and laughingly reported “hanging in there.” Craig had taken her for her birthday to a Carroll County park for some fishing. She said she didn’t catch many fish but the weather was nice.