Joan S. Shnipper, a former vice president of communications and public affairs at University of Maryland Medical Center and the University of Maryland Medical System, died of respiratory failure Monday at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson.
The longtime Cross Keys resident was 64.
"Joan was a sweet, sweet lady," said Dr. Morton I. Rapoport, former CEO and president of the University of Maryland Medical System.
"She was there during a period of transition for the hospital at a time when we were trying to become a competitive enterprise and aggressively recruiting talent," said Dr. Rapoport.
"She was just outstanding during this time, and we could always rely on Joan. She brought a great sense of calm during this period of stress, and she was able to convey our message and mission to the public," he said.
The daughter of Harry Corbin Shnipper, an electrical engineer, and Theresa Nachbar, a homemaker, Joan Shelley Shnipper was born and raised in Teaneck, N.J. She graduated from Teaneck High School in 1969.
In 1973 she graduated from Goucher College with a bachelor's degree in English and foreign languages. Also at Goucher, she also completed a graduate-level program in fundraising and development.
From 1973 to 1982, she was director of public relations at then-Baltimore City Hospitals, now Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
Ms. Shnipper joined the University of Maryland hospital in 1982, when it was a state agency. She was, in her words, "a department of one."
She went on to establish the hospital's first public relations office and built a team of health care communications professionals that eventually grew to a staff of 16.
Soon after arriving at the hospital, Ms. Shnipper led a public relations campaign to pass a bill to change the governance of the hospital from a public agency to a private nonprofit corporation in 1984.
"She was one of the key members of our team during that time, and she was one loyal and enthusiastic member of that team," recalled Dr. Rapoport.
Ms. Shnipper's career included 28 years at the University of Maryland Medical System and the system's flagship academic medical center, University of Maryland Medical Center.
From 2000 to 2012, she served as vice president of corporate communications and public affairs at UMMS, which has now expanded to 12 hospitals throughout Maryland.
Ms. Shnipper also held several leadership positions at UMMC, including vice president and director of communications and public affairs.
Her duties at both UMMS and UMMC included overseeing internal and external communications, media relations, print and electronic publications, website management, development and design, crisis communications and graphic design.
"Elaine Freeman was the grande dame of public relations at Hopkins Hospital on the east side and Joan Shnipper was the grande dame on the west side," said Jennifer B. Litchman, chief communications officer and vice president and special assistant to University of Maryland Baltimore President Jay A. Perman.
"When Joan brought me in 1999 to be director of public relations at the School of Medicine, I was from Washington, and new to health care and higher education, and she took me under her wing," said Ms. Litchman. "She mentored me and helped me understand what I was doing.
"She really understood the growth and expansion of the institution and what it has become today. She brought knowledge and passion to her job. The name and brand recognition is really due to Joan," she said. "She was a really kind and caring person. One of a kind. She was well respected and loved by all."
Ms. Shnipper's work was recognized locally and nationally with more than 60 awards for excellence, including honors from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
These included first-place awards for the medical systems' publication, "Where Maryland Comes First," in 2002 and in 2000. The publication was a joint media relations program between UMMC and the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
"Joan was a very, very special lady. She had an elegance, a wonderful, puckish sense of humor, and was very smart, " said Nelson J. Sabatini, an independent health consultant who served as state secretary of health from 1991 to 1995 under Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
"She never got wrapped up in herself. She was modest and was always in complete control. She never let her ego get in the way and laughed easily," said Mr. Sabatini. "She was just a class act."
Ms. Shnipper retired this year because of her health.
Her professional memberships include the AAMC, the Society for Health Care Strategy and Market Development of the American Hospital Association, and the Maryland Society of Health Care Marketing and Public Relations.
She had served on the board of the Maryland Hearing and Speech Agency until 2013, and on the Estelle Dennis School of Dance Scholarship Trust.
Ms. Shnipper was a member of Bolton Hill Synagogue and enjoyed traveling.
Services were private.
She is survived by her husband of 30 years, Michael Mullane, an executive at Mercy Medical Center; a sister, Randee Markowitz of Burke, Va.; and two nieces.