Phyllis Brotman, who began her public relations and marketing career at her kitchen table and became one of the most respected and influential women in Baltimore business and civic affairs, died Friday at Arden Courts. She was 79 and had been suffering from dementia.
"When she walked into a room, you could hear the crack of the glass ceiling," said David Imre, president of the Baltimore public relations firm IMRE and one of Mrs. Brotman's many proteges. "She didn't care that it was a man's world. She believed that she belonged."
Born in Baltimore to a pharmacist and a homemaker, Mrs. Brotman would inevitably become president of any club or organization she joined, in high school and at then Mary Washington College.
In 1966 she took all she had learned to Annapolis and successfully lobbied the legislature for the establishment of Maryland Public Broadcasting. Henceforth, the station announced on its first day of broadcasting, MPB would also stand for "Mrs. Phyllis Brotman."
"She was a role model to so many women now in their 40s and 50s in business in Baltimore," said David Nevins, who met her when he was the marketing director and was encouraged by her to start his own business. "She was a powerful and influential businesswoman before there was such a thing."
She also ran 176 political campaigns for John Heinz, Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller, among others, and she won 169 of them, according to her daughter, Barbara Brotman Kaylor, who worked with her mother for many years.
"That's an almost unbelievable percentage."
Mrs. Brotman formed an alliance with mayor and then governor William Donald Schaefer and worked with him on a number of projects to promote the city.
"One of the secrets [of Gov. Schaefer's] political formula was drawing on the energy and enthusiasm and expertise of all kinds of people," long-time Schaefer aide Mark Wasserman, said. "And a mainstay of his civic advisers team was Phyllis," he added.
"She was always there, ready to jump in and full of energy," said Mr. Wasserman, now vice president for external affairs for the University of Maryland Medical System. "And she could be counted on."
Her fondest achievement, her daughter said, was her election as the first woman president of the Center Club, from 2003 to 2006, and the role she played in its revitalization. She was among the first women to demand entry into the club in 1980 because, those who knew her recalled, she knew that's where business was done. The Center Club bills itself as "Baltimore's premier private business dining club."
Mrs. Brotman's clients included Nottingham Properties, developers of White Marsh; Black & Decker and CareFirst, which she nurtured from a small doctors' group into a major insurance firm. She was devoted to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Museum of Art and was the outspoken vice chairman of the General Assembly Compensation Commission in 2001 when it voted to give legislators a 38 percent raise.
"I always admired her gutsy-ness and her willingness to stand up and support what she believed in," Sandy Hillman, of Sandy Hillman Communications, said.
Mrs. Brotman also worked with The Baltimore Sun to promote its 150th birthday in 1987, said retired publisher Reg Murphy. "It was a week of celebrations," said Murphy from his home in Georgia, "and she put it together.
"And I don't know if she ever called herself a lobbyist, but she was a force. Politicians called on her all the time. She knew everyone in the city and most of the politicians in Annapolis."
Murphy also said that the influence of Mrs. Brotman, combined with the force of nature that was Schaefer, "really changed the city."
Ms. Hillman first met Mrs. Brotman in the late 1960s when she was working for Baltimore City. She described her as one of those "corporation citizens who understood the importance of marketing Baltimore."
She would have been pleased, associates said, with the beginning of MARC train weekend service between Baltimore and Washington.
"She would have been all over that," Mr. Nevins said.
Likewise, said her daughter, her mother would have approved that she returned a reporter's phone call from the back of the car carrying family members from her burial.
"This is exactly what she would have wanted me to do," Mrs. Kaylor said.
In 1997, Mrs. Brotman merged her firm, Image Dynamics, with Gray, Kirk/VanSant, one of Baltimore's largest advertising agencies. She received an honorary doctorate from Towson University in 2007 and delivered the commencement speech, among her last public appearances.
Mrs. Brotman was preceded in death by her parents, Sol G. Block and Delma Herman Block Brotman and her husband, Don-Neil Brotman, a dentist, who died earlier this year. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a son, Sol Brotman, and a sister, Lois Rosenfield, and three grandchildren.
Services were Sunday at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.
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