Mary Ralls, 85, social activist

Mary Ann Walker Ralls led activists for racial equality.
Mary Ann Walker Ralls led activists for racial equality.
Posted: July 16, 2010

Mary Ann Walker Ralls, 85, formerly of Mount Airy, a retired office administrator and social activist, died of cancer Monday, July 5, at home in Kennesaw, Ga. She had survived the disease for 42 years.

Ms. Ralls was a longtime member of the NAACP and participated in civil rights marches, said her daughter, Stephanie Stradford.

In the mid-1960s, Ms. Ralls helped organize a benefit in Philadelphia for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The event included a screening of the film Lilies of the Field, which starred Sidney Poitier, and featured the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a speaker.

Later, she chaired fund-raising campaigns for Progress Plaza in North Philadelphia and for Opportunities Industrialization Centers. In recent years she served on the board of YouthUSA, which administers achievement awards for young people.

"She was good at social networking," her daughter said, "and could reach out to people from different economic and ethnic backgrounds."

Ms. Ralls was born in Georgia and grew up in the Elmwood section of Philadelphia. She graduated from John Bartram High School and from Strayer Business School in Philadelphia. She then was a secretary at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Later, she was an office manager for the United Steelworkers of America, a legal secretary, and an executive secretary at KYW-TV, now CBS3. While at KYW, she was hostess to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who was interviewed at the station, her daughter said.

In the 1970s, Ms. Ralls held an administrative position at Temple University and coordinated the Women's Faculty Club. For 11 years, until retiring in 1992, she was an administrator in the operating division of Merck & Co. in Blue Bell.

Ms. Ralls raised her daughter as a single mother with the assistance of her parents and grandparents. She served on the Usher Board at Beulah Baptist Church in West Philadelphia and was a member of the Baptist Ushers Brotherhood and Ladies Auxiliary.

She loved fishing at the Jersey Shore, on Long Island and Cape Cod, and in Florida and Georgia, where she had lived for the last three years.

In addition to her daughter, Ms. Ralls is survived by a sister, a granddaughter, and two great-grandchildren.

A celebration of her life will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 17, at Beulah Baptist Church, 5001 Spruce St., where friends may call after 9. Burial will be in Rolling Green Memorial Park, West Goshen.


Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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