Former editors say Ms. Corey was never driven to rise through the newsroom for the power she could wield. "She wanted to do things for good reasons, for good journalistic reasons," said John Carroll, a former editor of The Sun and The Los Angeles Times.

Timothy A. Franklin, The Sun's former editor and now a managing editor for Bloomberg News in Washington, called Ms. Corey "one of the most creative journalists that I've ever worked with. She always found new and different ways to tell ordinary stories. ... She inspired people with her ideas and passion for the craft. People responded to her because they respected her and didn't want to let her down."

Under her leadership, The Sun was named Newspaper of the Year and best website by the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. Competing against the region's largest newspapers, such as The Washington Post, The Sun claimed 27 first-place awards last year. Its work was also recognized by professional groups representing investigative, sports, features, business, education and real estate journalists, as well as the White House News Photographers Association.

In addition to reviving the Sun Magazine, Ms. Corey led the creation of new sections such as Scene, brought back editorial cartoonist KAL, and bolstered coverage of medicine, science and the federal workplace.

Ms. Corey delighted in a clever turn of phrase and reveled in daily coverage of ongoing stories, whether it involved the corruption trial of a politician or the Ravens' postseason runs. She was proud of The Sun's investigative projects and the results they netted: changes in how Baltimore police reported rape cases, for example, and the recent overhaul of the city's troubled speed camera program. She also led the development of the Sun Investigates blog to highlight the news organization's watchdog reporting.

Many of these initiatives came as The Sun's owner, Tribune Co., underwent reorganization, emerging from bankruptcy this year. In ways large and small, Ms. Corey worked to keep the newsroom focused and forward-looking throughout the process.

For example, while maintaining a newsroom tradition of speeches and a cake for departing employees, Ms. Corey added a welcoming "snack party" for new hires, who got to pick a favorite treat.

"It's hard to image someone with a better mix of skills to lead a newspaper," said Luke Broadwater, The Sun's City Hall reporter. "Mary had strong journalistic credentials and sensibilities, but also had the people skills and business acumen necessary to be an effective leader. Mary will be sorely, sorely missed."

Broadwater remembered how Corey had previously called him to tell him he didn't get a job he'd applied for "but did it in such a nice way, and was so encouraging, that it didn't embitter me but somehow made me want to work for The Sun more.

"We stayed in touch, and a couple years later, I finally got to work with her," he said. "I only wish I would've had more time to learn from her."

Corey proved to be a model for others in the newsroom, sometimes in ways she likely didn't imagine.

"When I was tapped to be a feature columnist in the early 1990s, I had been on the sports copy desk for four years -- in jeans and sweat shirts," said columnist Susan Reimer. "When I knew I would be moving to features, I checked out Mary right away, to see what I needed to look like. I immediately went out and bought a black pencil skirt, black tights and black suede pumps and colorful blazers. That was Mary. Pure style. And I wanted to look like her.

"When she was named editor, we had a party for her and I got pink paper supplies and pink balloons that said, 'It's a Girl!'" she said. "The women in the newsroom were so proud of her. And she would go on to demonstrate such strength of vision and so much leadership and such a tireless work ethic. But she was always there, too, for a good gossip and ready with a box of tissues if you were having a bad day."

Ms. Corey was born in New York and moved to the Baltimore area as a child. After Dulaney High School, where she played field hockey, she went to Notre Dame of Maryland under an academic scholarship that businessman and philanthropist Henry J. Knott Sr., created in honor of his wife, Marion Burk Knott. Ms. Corey graduated magna cum laude in 1985.

Despite Ms. Corey's prominence in the city as The Sun's top editor — The Daily Record named her one of its 100 most influential Marylanders in 2011 — she shied away from drawing attention to herself. Still, she was unfailingly gracious in social events, gamely agreeing to the speeches and award ceremonies that came with her position, even as she maintained a largely private life.

She was devoted to her extended family and friends.

"She always had the right words, the time to listen to our stories and an abundance of love to give," said niece Caitlin Demchuk, 24.

Though childless herself, Ms. Corey loved spending time with her nieces and nephews — she took one, Kyle Quaranta, on a vacation to Honolulu this summer, where they spied celebrities such as Kanye West and Kim Kardashian at their resort — as well as her friends' children.

Cousin Mary Lindmark remains grateful that Ms. Corey, with all her professional responsibilities, rushed to her side in St. Louis in 2010 when her husband, Marvin, died unexpectedly.

"Mary was born the day before me, so we've always been close," Ms. Lindmark said. "When you sit down with Mary, she would talk about herself for about a minute, and then you found you were talking about yourself the rest of the time. I thought that was her reporter's training, but it really was that she was a compassionate person."