Rosalie A. "Rosie" Fonner, a registered nurse who had worked for several decades in the mother-baby unit at University of Maryland Medical Center, where she relished her role as an advocate, died Feb. 3 of cancer at her Halethorpe home. She was 62.
"Rosie was an incredible advocate for moms who were disadvantaged by addiction or their social situation. She would encourage them that they could be good moms," said the Rev. David Harness, a Church of God pastor who is one of the medical center's chaplains.
"She also would advocate for them with officials, making sure that they could get a second chance or the treatment they needed," he said.
"Rosie was highly regarded by the staff, and widely known and loved. She considered the people she worked with her second family," Mr. Harness said.
The daughter of a German immigrant laborer and a nanny, Rosalie Agnes Vorbach was born in Baltimore and raised in Southwest Baltimore on Norris Street and then on Monroe Street.
She was a 1968 graduate of Southern High School and earned an associate's degree from the Community College of Baltimore.
After graduating in 1985 from the University of Maryland School of Nursing, Ms. Fonner began her nearly 30-year career in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit and then moved over to the nursery, where she cared for mothers and their newborn babies.
"Both staff and parents placed a lot of trust in Rosie and knew they didn't have to worry when she was in the nursery caring for their babies. Staff and parents were reassured," said Mr. Harness. "She had a good eye and could pick up things. She was an excellent diagnostician."
Caryn Zolotorow, a nurse-manager, worked closely with Ms. Fonner.
"Rosie was such a warm person. She had a great love for babies and was a real champion for drug-addicted babies and mothers, and took lots of time nurturing them," said Ms. Zolotorow.
"She was one of the most astute nurses that I've ever known. She had a wonderful and accepting way about her," said Sandy Watkins, a registered nurse who worked side by side with Ms. Fonner for 15 years.
"She was nonjudgmental and didn't like those who judged those who were less fortunate. Rosie was a person who impacted all of us," she said.
Dr. Maria A. Martino-Gomez, a pediatrician in the unit, also worked closely with Ms. Fonner.
"I trained with her, and we have worked together for the last six years. She was always smiling and had a very positive way of looking at life. For Rosie, the glass was not half-empty but always half-full," she said.
"It was always nice and reassuring when she was in the nursery. She was a person who made a real difference," said Dr. Martino-Gomez.
In addition to her work, Ms. Fonner was a certified lactation expert, bereavement counselor and car-seat expert.
"Regarding babies, I learned more from her than anyone else," said Cara M. Sullivan, a registered nurse who has worked in the unit nearly seven years.
"And no matter what kind of a day you were having, she'd make you feel better. She was very unselfish and was always thinking about others rather than herself," said Ms. Sullivan.
Ms. Fonner took a lighthearted approach to life and in doing so, earned a reputation for being something of a practical joker.
"Oh, yes, she had the rubber spiders which she put around," Mr. Harness said with a laugh. "She was one of a kind and very down-to-earth and unpretentious. And if you thought yourself important, Rosie brought you down to size and at the same time, if you were down, she'd boost you up."
He added: "As a prankster, she would keep you smiling and looking over your shoulder."
Colleagues recalled Ms. Fonner as never holding a grudge.
"One of my fondest memories of Rosie is 'Afternoons with Rosie,' " said Christine K. Shippen, the unit's lactation consultant. "You could walk into the nursery and people were sitting in chairs, rocking babies, working on the computer or charting."
Ms. Fonner's favorite holidays were Halloween and Christmas, and she'd make sure that the unit was appropriately decorated.
"She really had no hobbies. Her hobby was work, and she'd volunteer to work holidays so others could be off," said her daughter, Allison M. Sayers of Columbia. "She liked buying toys and things that she gave to her mothers and babies."
Ms. Fonner kept working until early December, when declining health forced her to stop.
A memorial service will be held at 12:30 p.m. Friday in the Maryland Shock Trauma Center auditorium, 22 S. Greene St.
In addition to her daughter, Ms. Fonner is survived by her husband of 30 years, Charles Fonner, a registered nurse; a brother, Robert Vorbach of Baltimore; two sisters, Martha Brown of Baltimore and Eileen Collins of Chestertown; and a granddaughter.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun