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Lorraine Phillips, longtime staple at Baltimore City Hall, dies

Lorraine Phillips, longtime staple at Baltimore City Hall, dies
Lorraine Phillips witnessed 40 years of Baltimore political history from the inside City Hall. (Joyner, James /)

Lorraine Phillips, who witnessed 40 years of Baltimore political history from the inside City Hall, died of heart disease Saturday at the Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center & Hospital.

The former Bolton Hill and Cross Keys resident was 94.

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"Lorraine was the first lady of City Hall," said former City Council member Joseph J. DiBlasi. "She could be grandmother, mother, aunt or sister to you.

"She taught us that the constituents come first," he said. "As an individual, she was humble, modest, loyal and persistent."

Born Lorraine Horne in Baltimore and raised in the Oliver neighborhood, she was the daughter of Alexander Horne, a dental technician, and Marguerite Mihm.

She attended the old St. Paul's School in the city, and earned a secretarial diploma from its commercial school, which has long been closed.

As a young woman she worked for attorney Eli Frank and was later a medical secretary.

She then joined the staff of a liquor distributor. Friends recalled that one of her duties was to visit local tavern owners incognito and talk up the brands her employer carried.

She worked briefly for the Baltimore City Health Department. She was recruited by then-City Council President William Donald Schaefer, who talked her into joining the staff of the City Council in 1967.

"Schaefer, in twisting my mother's arm to take the job, said, 'Do you know who approves these jobs?'" said her son, Michael Rogich of Tierra Verde, Fla.

She initially worked for council members Alexander Stark, Jacob Edelman and Reuben Caplan, and later served in offices for the old 6th District of South Baltimore and Southwest Baltimore.

She became one of City Hall's best-known personalities. She schooled newly elected council members in the workings of city government, its departments and neighborhoods.

"It started as a job for Lorraine, but she made it into her calling, her mission. She lent a sympathetic ear," said Timothy Murphy, a Maryland District Court judge and former City Council member. "She was the oral historian of City Hall too, and she was its institutional memory."

"She was meant to have that job. She sparkled. People trusted her," said George Johnston, an attorney who was a college intern at City Hall from 1969 to 1970.

"She was a remarkable person. She genuinely cared about people, and she was in a position to help them," said Mr. Johnston. "Assisting others was a core value to Lorraine. And she did it in a fun way. People were naturally drawn to her; it didn't hurt that she was also very attractive."

In 1973, she was quoted in The Baltimore Sun commenting on the case of Rose Mary Woods, the secretary who served President Richard M. Nixon and who said she had mistakenly erased crucial portions of an audio tape involved in the Watergate case.

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"I think it's an insult to professional secretaries," Mrs. Phillips said of the erasure. "She's not like somebody right out of school. She's an experienced secretary,"

Later that year, she attended the Mayor's Ball for the Arts — which was staged at the Pimlico Race Course clubhouse because the Hilton Hotel, where it had been planned, was not ready.

"Oh, this is much better than the Hilton," said she of the event's being held at Pimlico. "That's a ballroom and this a racetrack. This is Baltimore."

In 1976 she was working at temporary City Hall offices on Calvert Street when Charles A. Hopkins entered the building and killed 6th District council member Dominic Leone, whom she served. Family members said she escaped the attack because she was out of the building at the time.

George Della Jr., a former state senator and City Council member, said Mrs. Phillips immersed herself in the machinery of city government and had a deep knowledge of its agencies.

"There was Lorraine, in the days before answering machines and emails. She would pick up the phone and say, 'Can I help you?'" said Mr. Della. "She loved what she did because she was in a position to help people.

"Lorraine's gift was that she was a friendly, welcoming person and had the skills to work with people from all walks of life," he said. "When we would be talking to constituents or at a community meeting, we would say, 'Call Miss Phillips, she'll take care of it.' And she would."

Her son, Michael Rogich, recalled that his mother kept a voluminous address and phone book.

"She seemed to know everybody," he said.

Mrs. Phillips, who lived in Bolton Hill on Park Avenue, trimmed her hours at City Hall to part time when she approached age 80. She stopped working about 10 years ago.

Still, she entertained friends and maintained ties to her fellow staff members.

"She was an angel, a Christian woman and a second mother," said City Council member Edward L. Reisinger III, who represents the 10th District. "She brought out the best in everybody. After a tough day, she could calm me down. She was so experienced, sometimes I thought she was the City Council member."

Memorial services are private.

In addition to her son, survivors include a sister, Jean Bishop of Troy, Mich. Her husband, Ralph Phillips, died in 1990. Her marriage to Michael Rogich ended in divorce.

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