For a time, all you needed to see to know that Hjordis Bruce was around was a light blue Volkswagen Beetle convertible.
That car took her around a community she'd embraced since arriving in Columbia in 1974 — to the gyms where she worked, to the buildings where her art hanged, to the places where she would bring her family for exercise or exploration.
That vehicle still stands out in the mind of Bob Bellamy, director of the Columbia Association's sport and fitness division, who worked with Bruce for two decades.
"It was such a classic car," Bellamy said. "And she was a classic person."
Bruce died at age 72 on Thanksgiving, a little more than a month after she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
She had been retired for a dozen years, leaving her job as general manager of the Columbia Athletic Club in 1999 after the birth of a grandson, Connor. Her husband, Marshal Bruce, had retired in 1997 after a granddaughter, Lyndsey, was born.
Hjordis and Marshal's son, Craig Bruce, had moved to the house next door to the home in which he grew up, where his parents still lived.
"The kids loved being off school, because they would go play games with her," said Craig, 43. "She taught Lyndsey how to cook and how to sew, even made a cookbook for Lyndsey with recipes of all the stuff they had made."
Hjordis Bruce took a job in 1979 at the gym now known as the Supreme Sports Club. For the final 10 years or so of her time working for the Columbia Association, she was the general manager of the Columbia Athletic Club.
Her contributions went beyond her title, according to those who worked with her.
"We would look to her to help us in terms of color palettes for the club," Bellamy said. "We don't always look to our managers for that."
For a time, much of the artwork decorating both the Athletic Club and the Supreme Sports Club was done by Bruce, according to Rob Goldman, CA's chief operating officer.
Bellamy and Goldman described Bruce as an unflappable and compassionate manager, someone who guided the Athletic Club through major renovations and even took on the extra duty of running all of the association's tennis programs for a few years.
"She was innovative," Goldman said. "She was always interested in what the latest trends were, whether it was exercise equipment or group exercise classes or programs and services we could bring to the club."
When not at work, Bruce was "driven by the creative spirit" with her art, said her husband of 50 years, Marshal.
"She was a lifelong student. She always wanted to learn. She got started off with art history and moved into actual art," Marshal Bruce said. "She took all the fine art classes at Howard Community College, and then started to audit them all over again.
"She got a kick out of life."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun