Irene Mae Petty, 80, a home economics teacher and collector of West African art and textiles, died of cardiovascular disease May 25 at her home at Leisure World in Silver Spring.
As the wife of a Foreign Service officer, Mrs. Petty traveled widely, particularly in Africa. She lived in several African countries, including Guinea, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Morocco and Tunisia. She also lived in Sweden.
During her time in West Africa, she taught elementary school in Tunisia, worked for the Peace Corps in Senegal, taught at a college in Ivory Coast and founded several organizations in support of women. She and her husband adopted two daughters from Guinea.
Mrs. Petty was born in Elmington, Va., and grew up in Washington. She graduated from Cardozo Senior High School in 1942 and received a bachelor's degree and master's degree in home economics from Howard University in the late 1940s. From 1950 to 1958, she worked as an administrative assistant with the National Labor Relations Board. She lived in Africa from 1959 to 1974.
She was an instructor in the School of Human Ecology at Howard after returning to the United States in 1974. She often gave lectures and demonstrations on various craft techniques and studied at the school for a doctorate in sociology. She wrote about African foods, the role of women in developing nations and other issues of human ecology. She retired from teaching in 1978.
Her interest in West African art and textiles led her to work as a docent at the National Museum of African Art and at the Textile Museum.
In 1980, she became the second director of the National Council of Negro Women's international division, a post she held for two years. While with the council, she arranged for a delegation of African American women to attend the first United Nations-sponsored all-women's conference, held in Nairobi in 1985.
She moved to Leisure World in 1995, where she served as librarian for her church, Leisure World's Interfaith Chapel, and for the building where she lived. She had been a member of Peoples Congregational Church United Church of Christ in the District.
She was a volunteer fundraiser for Tostan, a Senegalese nonprofit organization that works on behalf of women in Senegal, Gambia and Guinea.
Over the years, her apartment became something of a living museum of textiles, books, masks, paintings, jewelry and decorative items from many African countries.
Her husband, Will C. Petty, died in 1986.
Survivors include two daughters, Mariama Barry and Abayatou Barry of Conakry, Guinea; and four granddaughters.