Edith McKellar was at the point of giving up.
FHA mortgage red tape had been so grueling, with piles of paperwork and interminable questions -- that she was beginning to feel that it simply wasn't worth it. Sleepless nights and having to take time off to run to the mortgage company were taking their toll.
One thing kept her going. She had Gayle Briscoe. And that made the difference between getting her Randallstown home and not getting it.
"She helped me with letters, and stayed up late with me. With another agent, I wouldn't have the house," Ms. McKellar said. "I remember she drove me to the mortgage company, and then forced me to eat a chicken salad sandwich because she was so worried about me."
Today they're such good friends that Ms. McKellar's daughter calls Ms. Briscoe "Auntie Gayle," and scores of other clients maintain friendships with the agent. Ms. Briscoe's son, Major Boyd, is following in her footsteps, completing his first year as an agent.
"I used to carry him around when I was showing houses. Now his desk is by mine," Ms. Briscoe said.
Ms. Briscoe, recently named Realtor of the Year by the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, once also found herself disenchanted with paperwork -- and made the switch from social work to real estate. Tired of the mountains of red tape she encountered after years in the city's Department of Social Services, she joined Otis Warren Real Estate Services in 1970, when it was still in its formative stages. It wasn't as big a leap as one might think. She feels real estate is a form of social work -- in that it helps people improve their lives.
"I weighed the satisfaction of helping them get a home versus the paperwork of the government. The thrill [of finding them the right house] didn't compare with any other job," Ms. Briscoe said.
Now a 25-year Otis Warren veteran, Ms. Briscoe considers herself a very spiritual person and won't turn away a client -- whether the client is looking for a $15,000 home or a $300,000 home, or even a rental. Most of her sales range from $70,000 to $75,000. Some of her clients don't drive, so she takes them here and there for paperwork without batting an eye. She memorizes home and work telephone numbers and helps about 60 clients a year.
"I'll meet with people who may not buy for four or five years," she said. "I worked with one family three years. It's long-range counseling. If I don't sell, I'll still be blessed. It may not be direct, but I'll be blessed."
Although many buyers and sellers are skeptical of real estate agents, Ms. Briscoe feels that she's not an exception in her industry, and that many people judge real estate agents by one incident.
'I'm an ambassador for the real estate industry," Ms. Briscoe said.
Besides being named Realtor of the Year, she's attained the Million Dollar Association and received many other real estate accolades, including being president-elect of the Greater Baltimore board.
When she's not selling homes, Ms. Briscoe participates in a variety of civic projects, including the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, the Associated Black Charities, Westview Civic Association, Hugs Not Drugs and her church. She also teaches real estate courses at Catonsville Community College. She often travels to local hospitals and prays for the sick at their bedside.
"She's done three years of fund raising and increased the money we raised 40 percent during that time," said Donna Jones Stanley, executive director of Associated Black Charities. "I'd do anything for Gayle."
When she becomes president of the board in 1997, Ms. Briscoe bTC plans to encourage inactive members to participate.
"The time has come to see what we can do," she says. "I want to inspire them. I want to respond to the community -- through education and outreach. I'll make office visits and find out the member needs."
"She's not afraid to support the issues important to her," says Adam Cockey, current board president.
"I can't remember one thing she put her mind to that she didn't excel in," said Otis Warren, president of the firm that bears his name.
"She never forgets a birthday or anniversary, and bakes the cake and gets it done and to you on your birthday."
The board's selection committee that chooses the Realtor of the Year uses criteria that include local board activity; involvement in business, educational and other real estate designations; civic activities; and state and national involvement. Candidates' names are withheld from the nomination forms, so the selection team does not know whom they're choosing until they make a final decision.
Colleagues compliment Ms. Briscoe's professionalism and dedication, but even more -- her personality.
"There's a gentleness and calming about her," says Maureen Flynn, real estate agent and chairperson of this year's selection committee. "She's inspiring as a person."
She will lead a Board of Realtors that did not admit black real estate agents like herself until the late 1950s. But Ms. Briscoe says that by the time she became a Realtor in the early 1970s, racial bias was not a significant problem for her. One of her favorite poems, "Keep A-Goin'" sums up her philosophy.
"I never look back," she said. "I look forward to this day and on. I can't say the real estate industry did it. It was a reflection of larger society."
"She sets a good example -- that it can be done," Mr. Warren said.
Faith in God and in perseverance sustain Ms. Briscoe through periodic dips in the market. When she does become depressed, she sets the timer on her watch for 2 minutes. When it goes off, it's time to get moving again.
Born: Suffolk, Va.
Education: B.A. in psychology, Hampton Institute
Master's in Social Work, University of Maryland at Baltimore
Family: one son, Major Boyd, also a Realtor at Otis Warren
Civic activities: Associated Black Charities, Wayland Baptist Church, NAACP, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, Hugs Not Drugs, United Way, Westview Civic Association.