Laura Jude Gardner, the second Black woman hired as a systems engineer at IBM in Baltimore and one of the founding members of the legendary Gatsby’s nightclub, died Jan. 5 at her Sutton Place home in Bolton Hill of natural causes. She was 72.
Gardner was born May 13, 1945 to George L. Jude, a former advertising manager at the AFRO and Vashti M. Jude, a Baltimore City Public Schools teacher.
After Gardner graduated from Morgan State College in 1967 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Mathematics, and subsequently obtained her Master’s degree in Physical Science at Morgan. After graduating from Morgan, Gardner went to work for IBM, where she was the second Black woman hired at the company as a systems engineer. But, despite the prestigious position, she found herself seeking more.
“She was a very interesting person, she lived a very eclectic life,” said Elise Jude Mason, Gardner’s sister. Early on during her career at IBM, she connected with two colleagues at the company and the trio decided to venture into another career; the entertainment business.
“I think for them, they had been at IBM for a while. They were making good money, but they weren’t passionate about it. That’s when they did it…that’s when Gatsby’s was born,” said Mason, alluding to Gardner and her partners pooling their resources and starting the legendary Gatsby’s disco and supper club in the early 1980’s. On the first floor of the club was the disco, where some of the top DJ’s in the city performed and upstairs was a supper club. Gatsby’s attracted some of the top music acts of the era including Gloria Gaynor and Phyllis Hyman.
“Her first love was that Gatsby’s experience,” Mason said.
Gardner and her partners also were owners of the Ritz nightclub, which occupied the old Playboy club on Light St., in downtown Baltimore, which attracted partygoers from Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and other locations in the Mid-Atlantic. “After disco died, it (ownership of Gatsby’s and the Ritz), became financially unsustainable,” according to Mason.
After Gatsby’s and the Ritz closed, Gardner moved to Jamaica for a period of time. Years later, in 1998 she obtained a second Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.
She later began another career, this time as an educator teaching in the Baltimore City Public Schools for 17 years. Gardner taught science to students at the Laurence G. Pacquin School, as well as Booker T. Washington Middle School until her retirement in 2015.
Gardner was an accomplished graphic artist, a skilled writer, she enjoyed travel and was a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
She leaves to mourn: her sister Elise Jude Mason, an attorney; her nephew Fred D. Mason, III, an architect; two grand nephews and many first and second cousins.