The community pillar

A teacher, union leader, and civil rights activist for over three decades, Patricia Cook-Ferguson died of lung cancer on Nov. 28 after a career spent at or near the helm of the Baltimore Teachers Union and the Baltimore County chapter of the NAACP. She was 56 years old.

"She was the rock who really put everything together," Cook-Ferguson's son, Carlton Ferguson Jr., told The Sun. "My mother was the family pillar, just like she is in the community. We got our foundations from her."

Born in Queens, N.Y., she graduated from Queens College and received her master's degree in special education from Coppin State Teachers College (now University). She began teaching in Baltimore during the Carter Administration and was first elected president of the County NAACP chapter in 1992, winning re-election three times before a scandal temporarily sidelined her.

In 1999 the national office barred Cook-Ferguson from retaking the post after her third election, when it was discovered that she had not paid her NAACP dues for two years, meaning her membership had lapsed. The office was nearly disbanded, but Cook-Ferguson retook the helm in 2002.

Over the past decade, Cook-Ferguson was frequently quoted in news reports about racial issues. "With the county, it has been the 'good old boys' system where it was very hard for people to get jobs in high positions or midlevel jobs," she said in a May 2011 story in The Sun about the county government's minority-hiring policies.

"She was a dynamic force in advancing the lives of individuals in the community as well as the workplace," Baltimore County executive Kevin Kamenetz said in a statement.

Cook-Ferguson was remembered for reviving the county's participation in the NAACP's Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, known by the acronym ACT-SO. "Her biggest accomplishment was establishing an ACT-SO Committee which she asked me to chair," American Federation of Teachers Maryland Chapter President Marietta English wrote in a remembrance. Three county students won gold medals in the 2012 competition.

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