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Debra Ann Wilson, HR professional, dies

Debra Ann Wilson, HR professional, dies
Debra Ann Wilson was a human resources administrator and former television producer. (HANDOUT / HANDOUT)

Debra Ann Wilson, a human resources administrator and former television producer, died July 23 of complications from heart disease and diabetes at the University of Maryland Medical Center after de-boarding a Spirit of Baltimore cruise for her friend's birthday celebration. She was 62.

The daughter of Johnnie B. Piggee Wilson and William T. Wilson, Ms. Wilson was born in Holly Grove, Ark.

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Because of her father's military career, the family traveled extensively and moved frequently during her formative years. When her father retired as an Army officer, the family settled in Maryland.

Ms. Wilson, a longtime resident of Baltimore's Franklin Square neighborhood, was known to friends and family as "Debi." She graduated from Aberdeen High School and earned a journalism degree from the University of Maryland, College Park.

She began her career at WBAL-TV as a producer, where she worked in the 1970s on the program "Baltimore at 10" that competed with Oprah Winfrey's show on WJZ. Ms. Wilson made lifelong friends while working at the station.

One friend was Maggie Linton. The two immediately bonded over childhoods spent as "Army brats," a love for jazz and fondness for conversations over crab dinners. They had another thingin common: Both were minority women working to break barriers in media.

"We were walking the same path," said Ms. Linton of Jessup, who said she last saw her old friend at a party on July 3. "She was a warm and wonderful person, caring and concerned. Everybody loved Debi. When she showed up, you knew the event was complete."

After leaving WBAL, Ms. Wilson pursued a career in human resources. She worked for Baltimore Life Insurance Co., the Johns Hopkins University and the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

Ms. Wilson regaled her friends with stories of the celebrities she met when they visited Brookings. She was the person her friends and family members went to when they needed advice on how to get hired for a job or navigate a workplace challenge. Ms. Wilson freely gave words of wisdom to strangers directed her way, said Phyllis Reese, a friend.

"She is such a beautiful spirit," said Ms. Reese, a Baltimore resident.

A brother, Robert Wilson of Edgewood, said the lasting friendships his sister made in college helped to keep her settled in Maryland. Her friends became another family to her, he said.

Ms. Wilson had a lot of friends because she was a good friend to others, Mr. Wilson said.

"I am going to miss her conversations," her brother said. "She always had time for you, no matter what she had going on."

A resident of West Baltimore for more than 30 years, Ms. Wilson continued throughout her life to volunteer frequently. She participated in a host of community activities, such as career days at local high schools. She had a special affinity for children, said Wanda Smith, a Lanham resident and Ms. Wilson's best friend of nearly 45 years.

Mrs. Smith met Ms. Wilson as the two stood in the registration line on the University of Maryland campus. From that day forward, they celebrated life's milestones together — college graduation, the birth of Mrs. Smith's children, new jobs and retirements.

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Ms. Wilson was a godmother to Mrs. Smith's children, Shani K. Smith and Omari T. Smith.

"She was a rare soul, one that accepted people without judgment," Mrs. Smith said.

Mrs. Smith said Ms. Wilson used her work in the human resources field to help cultivate the careers of young people. She especially enjoyed working with the interns at Brookings, whom she described as "really sharp."

Mrs. Smith said Ms. Wilson inspired her daughter to become a physician by providing her encouragement and a toy medical kit when the child was 7.

Ms. Wilson enjoyed attending jazz concerts and Broadway plays. She collected African-American dolls and showed up at celebrations with bags full of gifts. Mrs. Smith said they scoured the Mid-Atlantic on shopping trips looking for "treasures."

"I'm not going to say we were pack rats, but we were very close to it," Mrs. Smith said, laughing at the memory of the friend she spoke to every Sunday. "To me, this is incredibly sad. She was my touchstone."

A memorial service is planned for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at Vaughn C. Greene Funeral Services' chapel at 8728 Liberty Road, Randallstown.

In addition to Mr. Wilson, survivors include another brother, Jason A. Wilson of Lexington Park; and nephews and aunts. She was preceded in death by a brother, Harold Wilson.

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