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Catherine Byrne Doehler was the first woman director and chair of the Baltimore branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
Catherine Byrne Doehler was the first woman director and chair of the Baltimore branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. (BALTIMORE SUN)

Catherine Byrne Doehler, who went from a mortgage firm's switchboard operator to become the first woman director and chair of the Baltimore branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, died of heart failure Jan. 12 at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. The former Cross Keys resident was 95.

Born Catherine Byrne in Omaha, Neb., she was the daughter of Roy. T. Byrne, who had a dry goods business, and Erma Sheridan, who worked in charitable causes with the Rev. Edward J. Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town. She moved to Baltimore in her teens and graduated in 1936 from Notre Dame Preparatory School.

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She did secretarial work in local offices and in 1942 joined Weaver Brothers of Maryland, a mortgage firm at St. Paul and Fayette streets in downtown Baltimore. She initially ran its telephone switchboard, but she was a fast learner who acquired a knowledge of real estate and its financing. She rose to become the firm's executive vice president.

"She told me she stepped in because of World War II. She did the work of the men who were no longer there. She was smart, canny and hardworking," said John "Jack" Breihan, a friend who is a Loyola University Maryland history professor. "She drove around the city and collected and carried large amounts of cash in her car."

She was part of a management team that changed the company's name to Chesapeake Financial in 1972, when it was purchased by its employees. At that time, the firm was one of the largest privately held mortgage bankers in the U.S., according to a Baltimore Sun article.

Mrs. Doehler was chosen to be the first woman director of the Baltimore branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond in 1975. In 1980, she was named the first woman board chair.

She participated in the bank's relocation from Calvert and Lexington streets to a $36 million building on Sharp Street in Otterbein in 1982.

A 1979 Baltimore Sun article, "Some Baltimore Women at or Near the Top," said, "Of local women who have made board status by coming up through the financial ranks, probably none can claim greater distinction than Catherine Byrne Doehler."

She returned to school during her professional career and earned a bachelor's degree from Loyola University Maryland, from which she also earned a master's degree in pastoral counseling. She had a second master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University. Notre Dame University of Maryland awarded her an honorary doctor of laws degree.

She was a member of St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church in Govans, where she met Edward A. Doehler, a longtime history teacher at Loyola. They married in 1977.

"I was always impressed with how gracious and insightful Catherine was," said the Rev. Brian Linnane, a Jesuit priest and president of Loyola Maryland University. "I have been told that while her husband, Ed, was still teaching in the history department, the faculty would always bring candidates for teaching positions by to meet her because she was such a shrewd judge of character."

She was a founding member of the Executive Women's Council in the 1970s.

"She was impressive and bright. I was sort of in awe of her," said Jo-Ann Orlinsky, a fellow member of the council.

By 1986, Mrs. Doehler was director of financial development for the Baltimore regional chapter of the American Red Cross. She then sat on the boards of Bon Secours Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital and St. Joseph Medical Center. She also sat on the boards of the old Mount St. Agnes College as well as the Maryland School for the Blind, Notre Dame Preparatory School, Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., and the Baltimore Radio Reading Service for the Blind.

Mrs. Doehler was an adviser to St. Elizabeth's School for Special Education.

"She was a wise and kind woman. She volunteered at our pastoral care department," said Sister Karen McNally of Stella Maris. "She didn't hesitate to tell you what she thought about things. When she said something, you paid attention, too."

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The Women's Advertising Club of Baltimore named her its 1967 Woman of the Year. In 2012, Notre Dame Preparatory School named her to its Foundress Society.

A Mass was offered Jan. 16 at the Stella Maris Chapel in Timonium.

Survivors include a nephew, Richard B. Byrne of Fort Myers, Fla., and a niece, Virginia B. Mahlke of Vienna, Va. Her husband of 37 years died in 2004.

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