Brenda Bradley Gelston, whose dream of a respected girls and women’s sports officiating organization led to the growth of the Baltimore Board of Officials for Women’s Sports, died of pneumonia Sunday at Springwell Senior Living in Baltimore. She was 80.
“She was fiercely feminist and independent,” said her daughter, Sue DuMars of York, Pennsylvania. “She was an amazing mom, but at the same time, very driven with her career.”
Born in Federalsburg in 1941, she was the daughter of Lambertine Bradley, a farmer, and Reta Bradley, a homemaker. She was raised on a chicken farm, and was the seventh of eight children. Mrs. DuMars said her mother played a lot of sports growing up, partially as a way to escape extra farm chores.
She attended Federalsburg High School, winning Miss Federalsburg in 1958. She then attended State Teachers College at Towson, earning a degree in physical education in 1963.
Mrs. Gelston met her future husband of 68 years, Hugh Gelston Jr., during physical education summer classes at Towson. Mr. Gelston said they met in track and field class; he thought she was “cute and athletic.”
“I tell everybody she outran me and was able to catch me,” her husband said.
In the early years of their marriage, the couple lived in Rodgers Forge. They later moved to Phoenix in Baltimore County, where Mr. Gelston still lives. Mrs. Gelston is survived by the couple’s four children: Mrs. DuMars; Virginia “Ginger” Gelston of Loganville, Pennsylvania; Kelby Gelston of Annapolis; and Hugh “Trey” Gelston of Blackwood, New Jersey.
Athletics were central to Mrs. Gelston and her family’s lives. Her husband was the athletic director for The Boys’ Latin School of Maryland, and three of her children became physical educators and coaches. She started out as a PE teacher in the area, but in 1971 she joined the Baltimore Board of Officials for Women’s Sports as a scheduling coordinator.
Her husband said she stayed glued to her desk in the basement of their house when she first started assigning referees to sports, organizing schedules on paper. She had to assign soccer, field hockey and volleyball in the fall; basketball in the winter; and softball and lacrosse in the spring.
Mrs. Gelston is credited on the organization’s website with turning the officiating board into the well-established organization it is today. She assigned officials for all women’s sports in Baltimore County and Baltimore City high schools. Fran Trumbo, the executive director of the board, said Mrs. Gelston believed strongly in supporting women’s athletes with trained, professional officiators.
“She had such a heart for the girls that played sports and the women that played sports,” Mrs. Trumbo said. “That’s one of the things that BBOWS is so driven about. We’re there as a service to provide quality for the athletes that are playing the game.”
Mrs. DuMars added, “it wasn’t OK for girls high school sports to just have someone’s dad come out on the field and referee. They deserve to have quality trained, rated officials at their sporting events just like the boys teams, and she felt very strongly about that.”
Mrs. Gelston carried quite the reputation while serving on the board. Mrs. Trumbo chuckled and said, “Nobody messes with Brenda.”
“Brenda was such a leader because she had skills that she could teach, that you could apply in the game, and she ran the organization like a family,” Mrs. Trumbo said.
Kathy Campbell, who also worked with Mrs. Gelston on the board, said she was professional and “opinionated in a good way.”
Ginger, one of Mrs. Gelston’s daughters, said her mother often had to stand up for her decision-making in a field populated by men who thought they knew better.
Mrs. Gelston was recognized with numerous awards and responsibilities throughout the years, including a Distinguished Service Award from the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association in 2006. BBOWS gives out the “Brenda Gelston Service Award” each year to one of its members for their dedication.
She was a loving mother, often doing crafts and gardening with her children. She made Mrs. DuMars’ prom dress, and a pair of pants for her husband with the Pepsi logo all over them. She had a do-it-yourself mentality, always trying to fix things herself.
“She never threw anything away,” her husband said. “She’d find a way to sew it up.”
Mrs. Gelston loved gardening. When Mrs. Trumbo, her colleague, moved to Carroll County, Mrs. Gelston gave her two trees and some lilac bushes. Mrs. Trumbo still has them today.
“She did that for several people,” Mrs. Trumbo said. “I was always touched by her kindness.”
She was an avid women’s basketball fan, and encouraged her 13 grandchildren to follow the women’s teams in March Madness. “She was really very passionate about women’s sports and supporting them and getting people to pay attention to them,” Mrs. DuMars said.
In addition to her husband and children, Mrs. Gelston is survived by her siblings Wayne Bradley of Delmar and Nancy Passwaters of Seaford, Delaware.
The family held a private reception for friends and family at the Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home on Friday. A memorial celebration of her life will be planned to include out-of-state family.