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News Obituaries

Paul Umansky, Sinai Hospital spokesman, opera lover

Paul Umansky, an opera lover, occasional actor and, for more than two decades, the public voice of Sinai Hospital, died March 27 at the Gilchrest Center.

He was 81, and died following a three-year bout with multiple myeloma.

"He was a great guy," said longtime friend Saul Lindenbaum, a psychologist who worked with Mr. Umansky at Sinai. "He was very loyal, whether it was to his job or his family or his friends. He was serious, he was loyal, he worked hard.

"But he was also funny; he had a great sense of humor," he said. "He never did things by a half-measure, you know? He always worked very hard."

Israel Paul Umansky was the son of Russian emigres; his father, Jacob, was a tailor who fled his native country during the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. After stops in Romania, Argentina, Portugal and Germany, he eventually settled in Montreal; it was there that he married Manya (Mary) Kalatzowa in 1930. Their first child, Paul, was born two years later.

The family moved to New York City in 1946, where Mr. Umansky attended William Howard Taft High School and first developed a taste for acting on stage.

"I was a so-so student," he wrote in a brief personal history he prepared for his family, "too taken with acting to care for anything else." As an actor, the young Mr. Umansky was good enough to receive offers to hone his craft at schools in New York and Hollywood, but not wanting to be separated from his family, he turned them down.

His love for the arts would continue to color his life, however. In 1953, Mr. Umansky graduated from the State University of New York's Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences. He enlisted in the Air Force that same year, finding himself as an artist on the base newspaper and radio station in Narsarssuak, Greenland. He made his first foray to Baltimore while still in the Air Force, assigned to the Air Research and Development Command. He also hosted a 15-minute radio program on WBAL radio, "Flight in Blue."

After being honorably discharged from the Air Force in 1957, he and his wife, the former Margaret Joy Ward-Walker, settled in Baltimore, eventually moving into a home in Pikesville, where he would remain until just days before his death. Over the next several years, his jobs included working as a floor manager at WMAR-TV, a cameraman and film supervisor at WJZ-TV, an ad-agency copywriter and a weekend announcer on radio station WAYE. He also, at various times, drove a taxi and worked at the E.J. Korvette Co. and Maryland Cup.

Mr. Umansky earned a journalism degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1977, and later a master's degree in public relations from American University.

Mr. Umansky's work at Sinai began in 1974, and he would remain there full-time until retiring in September 1997. For most of those years, he was head of the hospital's public affairs office, and he took great pride in his longevity. "My tenure may have been a near-record for hospitals in the area," he wrote in his personal history.

At Sinai, Mr. Umansky strove hard to work stories into the local media about the work being done there, and he would often be interviewed and quoted by reporters trying to find out information about patients. One of his hardest assignments was speaking for Sinai when a baby boy was kidnapped from a room there in 1989; the child was eventually re-united with his mother.

"He was the face of the hospital during that time," Dr. Lindenbaum said. "There was a lot of heat, it was a tough assignment. But I thought he carried it off beautifully."

Mr. Umansky continued to work for Sinai after his retirement, sometimes as a volunteer, sometimes as a paid consultant. But his real passion in retirement became the Baltimore Opera Company, where he served for many years as a supernumerary, appearing as an unbilled extra in numerous productions, including "Aida," "Tosca," "Romeo et Juliette" and "La Boheme."

"He couldn't put two notes together to save his life, but he loved opera," said his daughter, Judith C. Umansky, of Towson. "He had an encyclopedic knowledge of opera."

In fact, Ms. Umansky said, working as a paid consultant for Sinai became a means to an end for her father. "It gave him money to go to the opera, Center Stage, things like that," she said.

In recent years, Mr. Umansky had developed an interest in genealogy, tracing his ancestry and tracking down family members who lived all over the world.

In addition to his daughter and wife, Mr. Umansky is survived by two other daughters, Ruth A. Morrisson of Owings Mills and Susan B. Ryan-Hanscom of Catonsville; a sister, Pearl Prince of Los Angeles; six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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