SARASOTA, Fla. -- Monica Pence Barlow, the Baltimore Orioles public relations director who worked for the team for more than a decade and had become a fundraiser for lung cancer research, died Friday morning at Howard County General Hospital of the disease. The Ellicott City resident was 36.
Mrs. Barlow had worked full-time in the Orioles front office since 2001.
She was born in Downers Grove, Ill., and raised in Port Republic, Va. She graduated from the College of William & Mary with a degree in public policy and international studies in 1999.
That year, she started out with the Orioles as a front office intern and then worked about a year for the minor-league Richmond Braves. She returned to the Orioles as a public relations assistant in 2001 before being named to replace former PR director Bill Stetka in 2008.
She was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in September 2009 but continued to lead the department until taking a leave of absence in early February. Throughout her illness, she campaigned on behalf of lung cancer research as a speaker and fundraiser for LUNGevity Foundation, the nation’s largest nonprofit organization focused on the disease.
Though her prognosis was never positive, those who worked with Mrs. Barlow marveled at her upbeat attitude during a grueling series of treatment programs and her commitment to her co-workers and the team.
“Over the past four and a half years, the work Monica did to raise awareness and funds for cancer research was a testament to her dedication to helping others,” Orioles managing partner Peter Angelos said in a statement. “The strength and resiliency she displayed by not letting her illness define her was a great inspiration to all who knew her. Her loss will be felt deeply by not only our front office staff, but also our manager, players and coaches, with whom she worked on a daily basis.”
Mrs. Barlow was a lifelong non-smoker and avid runner who was training for a half-marathon when she became concerned about a chronic cough and shortness of breath. By the time she was diagnosed, the disease had spread to her lymph nodes and liver.
During several media interviews to promote LUNGevity fundraising events, she acknowledged the fact that she was a highly unlikely candidate for a disease usually associated with heavy smoking or occupational exposure to carcinogens, but she told The Baltimore Sun in 2012 that she hated it when people asked her if she was a former smoker.
“The answer is no,” she said at the time, “but that kind of frustrates me, because that's not to say that if I did smoke I deserved cancer.”
Manager Buck Showalter addressed the team early Friday. He held back tears when he met with the media before the Orioles’ exhibition opener.
“I tried to text her every night before I went to bed and today was the first time I didn’t get a returned one,’’ Mr. Showalter said before stepping away to collect himself.
“We lost a feather from the Oriole today,” Mr. Showalter went on to say. “Monica embodied everything we strive to be about. Her passion, loyalty, and tenacity set a great example for everyone in the organization. She was so courageous in continuing to do her job the last few years despite her pain. This is an especially tough day for those of us that worked with her on a daily basis. It was a blessing to have her in my life; she made our jobs so much easier. We won’t be able to replace Monica, we will only try to carry on. I am going to miss her as a colleague and a friend. She was a rock.”
The Orioles defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-2, in their Grapefruit League opener Friday. Mr. Showalter said it was difficult to concentrate on the task at hand.
“It still is,” he said after the game. “It’s more difficult talking to y’all [in the media] than it is [managing]. The game is a little reprieve, but there are so many things that you associate with Monica -- actually seeing you all around and not seeing her over your shoulder.
“But she is.”
Mrs. Barlow was determined to make sure the illness did not define her. She remained a tireless leader of the Orioles PR department throughout her treatments — keeping details of her treatments private to all but a few — and was uncomfortable with any spotlight her battle might create.
“I don’t want to be a spotlight person,” Mrs. Barlow said to The Sun during the 2012 winter meetings, when Major League Baseball announced a Stand Up 2 Cancer benefit auction. “Millions and millions of people are affected by this disease. That said, if I can help raise awareness to raise funding for this, then I absolutely will do what I can. That’s why I feel it’s important.”
Mrs. Barlow went through several clinical trials and made campaigning for cancer research funding one of her passions.
“It’s something I recognize the importance of because I realized I probably wouldn’t be alive today without research,” she said in 2012. “The drug that I’m on right now did not exist two years ago, literally.
“With lung cancer, there is such a stigma about it because lung cancer is such a deadly disease, more deadly than any other form of cancer. There’s such a stigma that the funding for research is so low compared to others, so the more research I did and reading up, I realized this is a serious problem. It’s not fair that these diseases are so deadly yet don’t get the research funding that others do.”
Services are being planned in Virginia for next weekend. In addition, services will be held in Baltimore after spring training is complete.
Mrs. Barlow is survived by her husband Ben Barlow, an attorney; her parents Ramona and Wayne Pence of Port Republic; her brother, Jonah Pence, also of Port Republic; and a sister Natalie Pence of Chapel Hill, N.C.
Baltimore Sun reporters Eduardo A. Encina and Jacques Kelly contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun