Joanna R. von Briesen, a retired marketing and public relations executive who created campaigns to promote home ownership in city neighborhoods, died of a brain disorder Tuesday at the Genesis MultiMedical facility in Towson.
She was 72 and had lived in Phoenix and the Village of Cross Keys.
Born Joanna Raptis, she was the daughter of Anthony Raptis, a restaurateur, florist and lay leader of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, and Maria Raptis.
Raised on Underwood Road in the Radnor-Winston community, she attended Guilford Elementary School and was a 1961 graduate of Eastern High School.
When she was 10, she visited Greece with her family and briefly attended a Sparta school. Returning to Baltimore, she attended the old Baltimore Junior College and earned a diploma at Strayer Business College.
She was fluent in Greek and English and also spoke French and Spanish.
"Between her looks and her personality, she always made an impression," said a daughter, Maria von Briesen Hardison of Rockville. "She was very social. She was a smart woman, and in our family, she focused on social justice issues and politics."
She became a statistical secretary in the marketing department of the old Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and worked at its One Charles Center building in the mid-1960s.
After raising a family, she obtained real estate and broker licenses and worked for Terry Mead Inc. Realtors in Towson.
In 1976 she joined Smith Mead public relations and advertising firm. She initially used her language skills to place advertising in foreign technical magazines.
She became a partner and then president of the business in 1983. She retired in 2008 after suffering a stroke.
"Joanna considered her public-relations specialty to be special events, and she was as comfortable producing a trade show and bull roast for 1,000 home improvement contractors as she was producing fashion shows in urban malls to attract teenagers to the Job Corps," said Robert Mead, her former business partner and a friend.
In the 1970s she helped devise a marketing campaign for neighborhoods along the Loch Raven Boulevard corridor in Northeast Baltimore.
She worked with the Northeast Real Estate Conservation Project, and friends said she used her knowledge of real estate and marketing to boost sales of homes at a time when neighborhood leaders feared properties could be sold to absentee investors.
She repeated aspects of the campaign in the 1990s in Southeast Baltimore.
"The flight of Baltimore families to the suburbs is a familiar story," said a 1995 Baltimore Sun article. "But the marketing campaign being launched by the nonprofit Southeast Development Inc. is the latest initiative to take on the decline that has gripped the 30,000-home area as waterfront factories have closed and once-thriving neighborhoods have begun to empty."
"Our research showed that Generation Xers are the ones we have to concentrate on," Mrs. von Briesen said in the Sun article. "They don't come to this process with preconceived, reinforced negative images. They do want a home that will allow them to walk along the Patapsco River to a cafe for dinner or to the theater."
She was one of three founding members of Rebuilding Together Baltimore, a charitable housing and repair program originally called Christmas in April.
Mr. Mead said they engaged an estimated 20,000 volunteers to help make no-cost repairs for low-income homeowners. He said the effort repaired nearly 1,300 homes in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
She was also an executive director for the Maryland Improvement Contractors Association, Baltimore Cosmetologists Association, the Appliance Technicians of Maryland and the Maryland Society of Professional Engineers.
Mr. Mead said that as part of a Department of Labor's Job Corps program for the Mid-Atlantic, Ms. von Briesen recruited teen girls from economically deprived neighborhoods throughout the five-state region into federal Job Corps Centers.
There they could earn GEDs and learn career skills
The Public Relations Society of America awarded her Job Corps campaign with a Silver Anvil as "the best government marketing communications in the United States."
Mrs. von Briesen lived in Rodgers Forge and Charles Village, as wells as the Village of Cross Keys. More recently she lived in Phoenix in Baltimore County with her daughter.
A gourmet cook, she was known for her Greek and French dishes.
"When she brought food to a party, the guests made it a point to eat hers first," said her daughter. She specialized in roasted lamb, spinach pies and flan.
A funeral will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday at the Greek Orthodox Cemetery Chapel, 5917 Windsor Mill Road.
In addition to her daughter, survivors include another daughter, Dianna R. von Briesen of Phoenix; a sister, Kay Webster of Baltimore; and a granddaughter. She was formerly married to John von Briesen.