Doretha "Dottie" Hector, a West Baltimore mortician who represented Maryland in the National Funeral Directors Association, died of a heart attack Sunday at her Northwest Baltimore home. She was 74.
"She established herself and earned the respect of a profession not always accepting of women," said Victor C. March Sr., president of the Maryland Board of Morticians and Funeral Directors and a Baltimore funeral director.
"She came into a field with no family connections," Mr. March said. "She fought a lot of tough battles to be as respected as she was. Dottie was a natural leader."
Born Doretha Frances Lee in Baltimore and raised on Division Street, she was the daughter of Robert E. Lee Sr., a Pennsylvania Railroad worker, and Doretha Taylor, a homemaker and beautician.
She attended the Robert Brown Elliott School and was a 1959 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School. In 1965 she earned a nursing diploma from Maryland General Hospital after she attended a program sponsored by the Red Cross.
She became the director of nursing at the Jewish Convalescent and Nursing Home on Pall Mall Road. She then decided to study mortuary science.
"Her choice to go into the funeral service was a passion, but it was also a struggle for her as a woman — and as a woman of color," said her daughter, Robyn Hector of Baltimore. "She had several doors slammed in her face. And years later, those same people were at her door, asking for her help."
After earning a degree in mortuary science in the mid-1970s at what is now the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, she was an intern for Samuel Redd at his funeral home. She later served an apprenticeship with West Baltimore undertaker Arlington Phillips.
Mrs. Hector worked with Mr. Phillips and his wife, Elizabeth, as they converted the old Silber's Bakery into a funeral home on Monroe Street. When Mr. Phillips died in 1979, his widow and Mrs. Hector began managing the funeral home.
Mrs. Phillips died in 2011, and Mrs. Hector became the owner of Phillips Funeral Home. Colleagues said she established a broad base of friendships and connections throughout Baltimore.
"She had an amazing knowledge of West Baltimore families," said her sister, Roberta Ball. "In difficult times, she knew how to make things easier for grieving people."
Jonathan Hibner, a colleague for many years, said Mrs. Hector turned the funeral home into a community hub.
"People just stopped by and talked to her," he said.
Al Wylie, of Wylie Funeral Home, said, "Dottie knew everyone in town, and she was a friend to everyone in town. She also knew everything about funeral service and its rules and regulations. She was connected nationally at our conventions. She was well-spoken and well-loved, and was always bringing an innovation to the industry."
Said the Rev. A.C.D. Vaughn of Sharon Baptist Church: "Dottie was a classical person. Her presence brought calmness and comfort to many families. … She may have met a grieving person through her services as an undertaker, but she often went on to become a family friend."
In 1993, Mrs. Hector co-founded 100 Black Women of Funeral Service, and served as the organization's national president for many years.
"She was straight-up honest," said the organization's executive director, Elleanor Davis Starks of Longwood, Fla. "She was a great listener.
"She loved the funeral profession," said Ms. Starks. "Over the years, she mentored a lot of students in the field. She wanted them to feel kindred. She sponsored scholarships and made it a point to speak to those students who were entering our profession."
Mrs. Hector represented Maryland funeral directors on matters of policy at the National Funeral Directors Association. From 2001 to 2003 she was a trustee of the Funeral Service Foundation. She also belonged to the National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association and the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association.
Mrs. Hector was the 2002-2003 president of the Maryland State Funeral Directors Association.
Charlene Brown-Baldwin, owner of the Joseph Brown Funeral Home, said Mrs. Hector was a skilled embalmer.
"She embalmed. A lot of women don't," Ms. Baldwin said. "She was an excellent embalmer, and that is paramount."
"You felt confident she could help you because of how she conducted herself," said Michele Kutta, a friend of 40 years and manager of Taylor Funeral Home in Annapolis. "Her look and her stature conveyed security.
"She had a larger-than-life presence," Ms. Kutta said. "She was unassuming and quiet, but she moved through the national funeral service ranks. She was also a straight shooter. She spoke her mind, and it was done in an elegant way. You didn't get offended."
Mrs. Hector was a member of Greater Harvest Baptist Church.
A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. July 2 at the Carter Memorial Church of Baltimore, 13 S. Poppleton St.
In addition to her daughter and sister, survivors include a son, Robert Hector III of Baltimore; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Her marriage to Robert Hector Jr. ended in divorce, but she and her former husband remained friends.