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University of Baltimore financial aid director killed in Ellicott City flood

Joseph Anthony Blevins was dubbed "Papa Joe" by a colleague due to his fatherly presence in the office.

Joseph Anthony Blevins, one of two people killed in the weekend flooding in Ellicott City, was the director of financial aid at the University of Baltimore, officials there said Monday.

The 38-year-old Windsor Mill father of three was in a car with his girlfriend Saturday night when the vehicle was swept away in the floodwaters that ravaged the historic district, police said. The woman was able to escape, but Blevins could not, police said.


Also killed in the flood was Jessica Watsula, 35, a mother from Lebanon, Pa.

University of Baltimore President Kurt L. Schmoke and Provost Darlene Brannigan Smith said they were "shocked and saddened" by Blevins' death.


Blevins was "widely known around the institution for his calm demeanor, good sense of humor and helpful attitude," they wrote in an email to the university community.

"Joe strongly believed in the role of financial assistance in transforming students' lives," the officials said. "He had an important job, and he did it amazingly well."

Blevins was hired as associate director of financial aid and technology in May 2008. He was promoted to director of financial aid in October 2014.

His intelligence, thoughtfulness and compassion made him a well-liked boss and an effective financial aid counselor, said Shanna Kibler, the university's associate director of financial aid.

He loved being surrounded by people and was constantly coming out of his office to interact with his staff, Kibler said.

"His catchphrase was, 'What can I do for you? How can I help you?' whether it was something personally or professionally," Kibler said.

The financial aid office can't always give students and parents the amount of support they want, but those who met with Blevins never left feeling as if they'd been ignored, Kibler said.

"They felt they were getting the attention they needed, that their situation was getting the attention that it deserved," Kibler said. "Somebody cared enough to take the time to meet with them and sit there and listen to what they had to say and provide suggestions. He didn't ever make them feel like they were being rushed out of his office."


Katie Kauffman, associate director of enrollment research, said he had a similar effect on colleagues.

"For as busy and in-demand as he was, he never made me feel rushed to finish a conversation or that what we were talking about wasn't the most important thing to him," Kauffman said. "He was a good listener, a good friend and a mentor to a lot of people around here."

Bianca Bagwell, a financial aid counselor whom Blevins hired in 2014, said she immediately wanted to work for him because of his demeanor in her job interview.

Once hired, she dubbed him "Papa Joe" because of his fatherly presence in the office, which was matched by a deep, rich, reassuring voice.

"He treated us like his family," Bagwell said. "Anything you needed, he always looked out for you. He always wanted to make sure everybody else was happy and comfortable where they were."

Laura Jordan, a senior enrollment services specialist, said she and Blevins would go to sushi lunches and liked to people-watch. She said he cared deeply about his co-workers.


After Jordan mentioned to him that her 5-year-old son had developed an obsession with "Star Wars," Blevins showed up at her house on a Saturday with his own 5-year-old son to lend them Blevins' "Star Wars" movie collection.

"I felt like it was the most thoughtful and genuine thing anyone could do," Jordan said.

Blevins promoted a casual workplace atmosphere and was an occasional prankster, secretly leaving selfies on co-workers' cellphones or hiding their belongings, Kibler said.

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"He was just a good-natured person who loved to laugh and loved to make people laugh," she said. "He went out of his way to make people happy."

Blevins organized a cookout last week at Patapsco Valley State Park for 50 co-workers in the enrollment management division.

The university said it would share funeral arrangements when they are planned.


Efforts to reach Blevins' family were unsuccessful.

Baltimore Sun reporter Carrie Wells contributed to this article.