Elizabeth "Buff" Conklin, who operated a Towson travel store, worked as an administrative assistant at the Johns Hopkins University and enthusiastically volunteered for numerous local groups and causes, died of lung cancer Tuesday at her Glen Arm home. She was 73.
Born Elizabeth Martin to a family with a long Irish Catholic heritage, the Roland Park native was a graduate of Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson. As a teen, she volunteered as a candy striper at Baltimore's Good Samaritan Hospital — beginning a life of volunteerism that would continue for nearly 50 years.
Mrs. Conklin gave her time to numerous causes, such as serving as secretary for her alumni class at NDP and working with animal rescue groups. She was active in several environmental causes, including the state Department of Natural Resource's Team DNR program, promoting environmental awareness; the Campaign to Save the Valley, an effort that led to the establishment of Cromwell Valley Park in Baltimore County; and the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, where she worked alongside her husband, Charles E. Conklin Jr.
Mrs. Conklin wasn't above getting even more directly involved with people who needed her help. In 1994, the Conklins took in a Slovakian high school student as part of the international student exchange. In 2002, Mrs. Conklin signed on with Baltimore County's Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program and became the mentor for an 11-year-old mentally challenged girl.
"She was never real vocal about the things she did," said her daughter, Tracey Martin Pettingill, who lives in Baltimore's Evergreen community. "She was one of those unsung heroes. She just did things that meant something to her, and did them for a long time."
Mrs. Conklin and her sister, Laetisha "Tish" Brooks, opened Passenger Stop in Towson's Dulaney Valley Plaza in 1984 and spent the next nine years running the store. She also traveled widely herself, including bike trips across Europe with her husband.
An enthusiastic student of the language — "Her mastery of the English language, grammar and punctuation would have put many English professors to shame," her family wrote in an obituary sent to family and friends — Mrs. Conklin learned shorthand at secretarial school. Once her children were in school, she put that skill to use, first as a secretary at Roland Park Country School, then as an administrative assistant to Johns Hopkins University Dean Michael Hooker in the late 1970s.
Mrs. Conklin's first husband, Roy Wesley Pettingill, owned Northwood Hardware in Baltimore's Northwood neighborhood. He died in 1981. She is survived by her second husband, a retired engineer for Bethlehem Steel. They were married for 31 years.
In addition to her husband, daughter and sister, Mrs. Conklin is survived by her son, John Scott Pettingill, of Catonsville; and her stepson, Charles E. "Chick" Conklin III, of South Baltimore. She is also survived by her grandson, Devon Jones, of Evergreen.
Services are set for 2 p.m. Wednesday at Towson Presbyterian Church, 400 W. Chesapeake Ave.