Born in Baltimore and raised on Berkshire Road, she was a 1972 Northern High School graduate. She earned a bachelor's degree at Goucher College and her master's degree in administrative science at the Johns Hopkins University.
She began working in human resources at hospitals and banks and became the affirmative action officer at the old Mercantile-Safe Deposit & Trust Co. In 1980, she founded Berkshire Associates and initially worked with her father, Donald R. Stauffer, a Bethlehem Steel engineer who understood computer programming, in their home's basement and living room. They worked together to apply lessons learned in human resources with digital systems.
"It was remarkable how hard she worked. She would put in huge hours," said attorney George W. Johnston, a friend for 35 years. "She was a driven, ambitious person, but was at the same time gracious and a fabulous entertainer."
Her business is now one of the largest of its kind in a niche market. More than 50 employees work at its Columbia headquarters building.
"Berkshire quickly gained a reputation for product excellence and innovation and exemplary relations with government regulatory officials," said Mr. Johnston, who is senior partner and former chief operating officer at Venable LLP. "The company provides human resources services, software and audit support for employment law compliance by federal contractors. It has clients across the country."
Friends said she had an interest in diversity and the equality of opportunity. She helped found and was a past president of the Maryland Association of Affirmative Action Officers.
"The demographics of the country are changing rapidly. The economy will have a lot more minority workers and consumers," she said in a 1994 Baltimore Sun article. "Companies are going to have to have as much diversity as possible so they can capitalize on these new markets. If they don't, someone else will."
Ms. Hyde lectured frequently on employment compliance issues.
"Dawn had an entrepreneurial spirit. She looked for new ways to do things and for ways to keep things fun," said her firm's president, Beth Ronnenberg of Ellicott City. "She was someone you could talk to about your life or work experiences."
She had served on the boards of the Baltimore Urban League, the Pickersgill Retirement Community and the Information Processing Training Center, a program that prepared women to move off public assistance to clerical and data entry jobs.
"Her true civic passion was helping young girls and women realize their potential," Mr. Johnston said. "In high school she had worked at Acme Supermarkets as a checker and worked her way through Goucher. She was a believer in education and was strongly committed to ensuring that other women pursue education and careers."
Ms. Hyde was a past board chair of the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. She was also a past president of Network 2000, a nonprofit for women who wanted to network.
"She was a terrific businesswoman and she gave back to her community," said Elizabeth Dana of Lutherville, who owns Dana Insurance Services.
She was named by The Daily Record as one of Maryland's Top 100 Women and was later awarded permanent status in its Circle of Excellence.
Ms. Hyde belonged to the Center Club, the Gibson Island Club and the Johns Hopkins University Club.
"Dawn had an indomitable spirit," said her sister, the Rev. Pat Medley, who is pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Freehold, N.J. "She never bragged. She was generous to a fault. Dawn was the one who got the family together. She loved to entertain, to cook, to garden and do charity work."
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. June 19 at The Gathering Place in the River Hill Village Center, 6120 Day Long Lane, Clarksville. A second memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. June 20 at St. Christopher by the Sea Church on Gibson Island.
In addition to her sister, survivors include her husband of 29 years, Jonathan Hynson Hyde; a son, Henry Hyde; two daughters, Nora Hyde and Caroline Hyde, all of Gibson Island; her mother, Dorothy Jane Portera of Blue Bell, Pa.; a brother, Brian Stauffer of Jarrettsville; and three other sisters, Robin Stauffer and Betsy Alt, both of Baltimore, and Nancy Stauffer of York, Pa. A previous marriage, to Richard Keene, ended in divorce.