There was a mimeograph machine in the Brotman family basement. Phyllis would run press releases off in batches-ad campaigns, political campaigns (Democrats for Nixon was one). Barbara Brotman-Kaylor, Phyllis' daughter, remembers running around and collating pages with her brother as a young girl. "My mother always told us to read everything we pick up," she says.

So began the education of Phyllis and Don-Neil Brotman's children.

Don-Neil was a dentist and a pilot. He taught his daughter to fly when she was 14 because she had a phobia. She became a commercial pilot and a flight instructor before joining her mother's advertising agency, Image Dynamics, as a receptionist. She would rise to president by 1995, and later see the company through a merger with Gray Kirk/VanSant in 1997.

Phyllis Brotman was the sparkplug. In 1966 she lobbied the state legislature to create Maryland Public Broadcasting. In 1980 she talked her way into the Center Club when it was a men-only thing. She ran political and civic campaigns-176 of them, by her daughter's count. She won all but seven.

"I still have some of those buttons at the house," Barbara Brotman-Kaylor says. "I found all kinds of neat little ones."

In the early 1990s, Phyllis Brotman signed on as spokeswoman for a group working to bring an NFL team back to Baltimore. "Frank Perdue was her money guy," Barbara Brotman-Kaylor says. "I remember the phone rang and the guy asked for my mother, and I said who is it, and he said Frank Perdue. I was like, 'Oh sure. Here, mom, Frank Perdue's on the phone.'"

She brought in former Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr for some sizzle. "My mom made friends everywhere," her daughter says. "She probably met him along the way." The effort failed, but it was one of the few.

Along the way she mentored not only her own children but her employees, many of whom founded their own companies.

A highlight came in 2003 when she was the first woman elected president of the Center Club and led the revitalization of that august institution. "Winning that slot made her realize that she really was something," Brotman-Kaylor says.

Phyllis Brotman was diagnosed with dementia not long after. Phyllis told no one, but looking back on a 2007 commencement address her mother gave when she received an honorary doctorate from Towson University, Barbara says she can see that her mother was sick. "Going through this illness with her was so difficult," she says. "She saw her mother go through it."

Barbara Brotman-Kaylor says she and her brother, Sol, a Florida dentist, spent a lot of time with their mother toward the end. "She was a lady to the last second," she says. "We were holding her hand when she died."