Comstock warmed community with care

January 13, 2000

There will be better, more comprehensive tributes than this one written about the late Margaret Comstock, who died this past weekend at age 91. Close friends, associates and even local prison inmates will share tender memories of time spent with her, mourning her loss even as they reassure one another that if ever anyone deserved a heavenly reward, it was her.

The Bethesda native showed us how much new blood can improve a community when she came here in the 1960s and promptly founded the local chapter of the League of Women Voters.

In some years, the league provided the only local candidates' forums and made us think about issues like charter government. But it ran out of horses to fill its top officers' slots in 1994, and disbanded for three years, until a group of former members, including Comstock, revived the chapter in 1997.

I remember attending the reconstituted chapter's first event and seeing Comstock there, not playing the matriarch as her 30 years' service entitled her to do, but quietly serving cookies and punch and speaking to all who attended in a way that let them know she was genuinely glad to see them. For the causes she believed in, she employed gentle persuasion, letting her good example speak instead of raising her voice.


She volunteered well into her '80s, serving not only with the league, but on the committee that helped devise the county's recycling plan. She also helped tutor children at Greenbrier Elementary School and with the Community Correctional Services Committee, which helps with literacy training at the state prison complex.

About all of this, she was very modest and when she won the statewide Tawes Award for a Clean Environment in 1998, she would say only that:

"I've tried to do what I can. I believe everyone can do a little bit to help..."

This coming Saturday, Jan. 15 at the Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown, at the corner of West Washington and Prospect streets, at 10:30 a.m., there'll be what her daughter calls a "celebration of her life." Friends and admirers are welcome.

This week I had the pleasure of meeting with Bernadette Wagner and Roxanne Ober, two first-time candidates for the Washington County Board of Education. The two, who are running as a slate, both have children at Paramount Elementary School, but say they're running as advocates for all of the children of Washington County.

To prove that, they're pledging to visit every school in the county between now and May, finding out a number of things about each school, including its teacher-pupil ratio and how the schools are affected by things like "special permission," in which students outside a school district are allowed in for some special reason, like the child's grandparents living across the street.

Unfortunately, what some parents do, according to one school board member, is concoct an excuse for an out-of-district placement. In reality, they and their child are fleeing what they view as an undesirable school. It's anybody's guess how much better each school would be if those parents who fled with their kids stayed and fought for a better school instead.

And finally, here's some good news for lovers of that great American art form, the blues. Larry Banks, better know as Larry B - "B is for the Blues" - is bringing his Sunday night radio blues show back on the air.

Banks' "Blue Notes" show aired Sundays on WKMZ-FM in Martinsburg, W.Va. for almost six years, until a difference of opinion with someone at the station - Banks won't say who or what happened - led to its demise.

Now the show is returning on WAGE-AM 1200, out of Leesburg, Va., from 6 p.m. to midnight. If you can't get it there, Banks said it will streamed over the station's Internet site at

After the WKMZ show folded, Banks said he took a job in the printing trade in Leesburg, where he hooked up with a group called Jazzarray, some folks who are dedicated to bringing jazz and blues to that area.

"They've go a lot of things planned and a lot of good people are involved," he said.

Banks says he's glad to be getting back into broadcasting, but admits it will take him some time to get his rhythm back.

"I had gotten used to taking my shoes off and going to bed at 9 p.m. on Sunday nights," he said with a laugh.

If you like what Banks does, you might want to visit his web site at In addition to news about local performances, there are all sorts of blues-related links, and an e-mail form for requests and comments.

Bob Maginnis is editor of The Herald-Mail's Opinion page.

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