Dorothy Elaine Mahan, a retired cemetery accountant who during World War II was an official Rosie the Riveter, died of respiratory failure on April 7 at The Palms in Port St. Lucie, a nursing home in Florida. She was 97 and formerly lived in Hebbville, Baltimore County.
Born in Cumberland, she was the daughter of Fausten Guardian May, a home builder, and Lillian Cecelia May. She attended Cumberland schools and moved to Baltimore with her family at the beginning of World War II, initially living on Crossland Avenue in Mayfield in Northeast Baltimore.
“She had to give up further schooling to take a job to help out, despite having high grades in her junior high school,” said her son Mark C. Mahan.
As a young woman, she went to work at the reception desk of the Lord Baltimore Hotel.
After a year, she joined the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company in Middle River, working the third shift, midnight to 10 a.m.
“She used her beautiful mind for math, she checked the work of sleep-deprived estimators who built Martin B-26 Marauder bombers for combat,” her son said. “She was the office worker version of Rosie the Riveter,” he said, referring to the female character popularized during World War II who worked in factory jobs usually held by men serving in the military.
She later worked at the desk in an exercise room at the Ambassador Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. She was named runner-up in the Miss Margate beauty pageant in Margate City, New Jersey.
“She befriended two visiting children of a divorced wealthy couple in New York. The children’s father convinced her to go with them to a home on Riverside Drive,” her son said. “She took the children on bike rides along the Hudson River and outings with their mother, who kept her little plane near the George Washington Bridge.”
After a year in New York, she returned to Baltimore and the Lord Baltimore Hotel. One day, she spontaneously attended a basketball game with an acquaintance, where she met her future husband, Donald Mahan, who was serving in the Army Air Corps aboard a rescue boat.
After their wedding, they lived in an apartment near Johns Hopkins University.
They moved to Ocean City while her husband managed Rick’s Raft nightclub. She hired the staff and helped run the operation with Mr. Mahan.
After several years they returned to Baltimore and settled on Elmore Avenue in Baltimore County. She raised two sons and was active in the Hebbville Elementary, Woodlawn Junior High and Milford Mill Senior High PTAs.
She was treasurer of the Baltimore County Police Community Relations Council on Windsor Mill Road and a member of Prince of Peace Episcopal Church.
She went on to manage a gift shop, Stem N’ Wick in Security Square Mall, in the 1970s.
“My mother was excellent with numbers and could easily have run her own business,” her son said.
She went on to be the bookkeeper for Woodlawn Cemetery.
“It was an ideal job that took advantage of my mother’s mathematical acumen. She handled the finances,” her son said. “She also loved watching the swans glide on the cemetery lake.”
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She retired almost 35 years ago and lived in a beach home in Ocean City.
“On her long walks to the beach, she found it would have been nice to know how far you had walked, and my mother recommended that the municipal authorities get the street stenciled on signs,” her son said. “They complied.”
The couple moved to Indiantown, Florida, in the 1990s.
She made friends and was elected to the Indianwood Community Association board. She also had local officials add Indiantown signs to community waypoints.
Throughout the 90s, Mrs. Mahan stayed active and played on a bocce team. She liked card games and more often than not won at mahjong.
Survivors include her sons, Jeffrey S. Mahan of Annapolis and Mark C. Mahan of Arnold; her sister, Patricia Sekler of Cambridge, Mass.; and three grandchildren. Her husband of 54 years, Donald C. Mahan, a home builder who owned Ocean City’s Blue Bayou Restaurant, died in 2006.
A service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at Episcopal Church of the Advent at 4484 Southwest Citrus Blvd. in Palm City, Florida, where she was a member.