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Nora Caplan, who served for decades as a Maryland librarian, dies of covid-19

Nora Caplan, 93, died of covid-19 in Montgomery County. She was a librarian for more than 20 years.
Nora Caplan, 93, died of covid-19 in Montgomery County. She was a librarian for more than 20 years. (Family photo)

Nora Caplan, 93, of Sandy Spring, Md., had three goals she wanted to achieve: have children, travel to England to places she had read about in books, and publish a book of her own.

She accomplished all three, said her daughter, before she died in late April at Friends House, a retirement community where family members suspect she contracted the novel coronavirus.

Lisa Caplan Dane described her mother as a vibrant and friendly woman who enjoyed sharing stories of her childhood and travels in a column she wrote for a community newspaper.

In the days before she died, Caplan would talk with a former minister who lived on her floor, her daughter said. A stroke had left the minister unable to speak, but Caplan did the talking and showed him pictures of her family.

“His eyes lit up when she visited him,” Dane said. “All the talking was on her side, but he could hear, and up until the week before her death mom was motivated to connect with people.”

Dane said her mother suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney troubles and heart disease — all of which “compromised her immune system” — and had been in and out of the hospital since January.

Dane called her mother’s death a “rugged ending you don’t want for someone you love.”

“To see someone who is cognizant and loving people and then one week later is gone, it’s heartbreaking,” she said. “Covid-19 was the unexpected black swan.”

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Born and raised in Springfield, Mo., Caplan earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Southwest Missouri State in 1947. She taught English for a year at a rural Missouri high school, then came to Washington, where she worked as a clerk for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

At the agency, she met her husband, Leon, and the two married Thanksgiving Day in 1949. They moved to Silver Spring and later to Rockville, where they had two children.

Caplan went on to work at the Library of Congress and as a librarian at the Noyes Library for Young Children in Kensington, where she was employed from the mid-1960s until the early 1980s. She was recognized for starting a “Penny Theatre” program at several Montgomery County library branches.

After her husband died in 1985, she traveled and stayed in more than a dozen hostels catering to older travelers, often visiting places her favorite authors wrote about in England, France and Italy.

She was active in civic and arts groups in Montgomery County, including the Kentlands Community Foundation and the Sandy Spring Friends Meeting.

“She was a highly gifted, intelligent person, and she relished in being around others,” said Irené Ramsay, a 93-year-old friend of Caplan.

Caplan’s daughter said her mother also enjoyed writing a newspaper column called “Nora’s Corner” for the Town Courier in Kentlands.

In a 2016 column, Caplan wrote, “There are compensations as I grow older — I feel as if I have sailed into a safe harbor. I finally know myself pretty well. I have a circle of loving family and friends. . . . Most of all, I have more blessings than I can enumerate.”

At 88, Caplan fulfilled her dream to write and publish a book. “Noni’s Little Problem” was semi-autobiographical, about a young girl in the 1930s who found that showing kindness was the best way to deal with a bullying classmate who teased her about her weight, Dane said.

When Dane got word that her mother had tested positive for the coronavirus, she left her Indianapolis home and came to Maryland. As her mother was in isolation, Dane sat outside her mother’s room under an awning and watched her through a window.

While she sat outside for two days, Dane said she wrote thank-you cards to nurses and staff at the facility — something her mother taught her to do. Sometimes she would say a prayer or sing to her mom.

“I’d write a line and look up and watch her,” Dane recalled. “I just watched her breathing slower and slower.”

Caplan died April 25. Her ashes were interred in Springfield.

Dane wishes she could have held her hand.

“It’s just so hard for a woman who had such a big life to have it end in a tragic way,” she said.

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