Nina B. Hawkins, whose career in the city and state correctional systems spanned nearly five decades, died July 2 of a heart attack at her Owings Mills home. She was 65.
“Nina brought a sense of family and leadership, and she was a true leader,” said the Bishop Melvin M. Easley Jr., who spent 28 years working with Ms. Hawkins at the old Baltimore City Jail, which is now the Baltimore City Detention Center.
“To the new ones coming in, she showed them a great work ethic, and was a woman who dutifully completed every task and assignment she was given and she did them with excellence,” said Bishop Easley, an Idlewylde resident and pastor of The Carpenter’s House Baltimore in Northeast Baltimore.
“She taught people how to do things in an efficient manner, but she was more than an administrator, she was the embodiment of love. That was her whole persona because of her relationship with God,” he said. “She had strong convictions and she brought them to her work. It was hard not to love her.”
Evelyn Wood of Towson had been director of inmate services at BCDC from 1980 to 2011.
“When I first started there I got to know Nina,” Ms. Wood recalled. “She was very idealistic and very young, and really immersed herself in serving what was then the Baltimore City Jail with competence and vitality, and never lost that commitment.”
The former Nina Cecile Brown, daughter of Clifton E. Brown Sr., a deacon, and his wife, Bertha W. Brown, an evangelist, was born in Baltimore and was raised by foster parents, Alfred Kidd, and his wife, Iona Kidd, in their home in the 1100 block of N. Luzerne Ave., in East Baltimore.
Ms. Hawkins was 17 when she graduated from Western High School in 1972, and went to work that summer at the Baltimore City Jail.
“Her strong work ethic, professional demeanor, reliability, and dedication were quickly noticed among her colleagues,” according to a biographical profile submitted by Ms. Hawkins’ family. “In all her positions, her talents in writing, management and adaptability made her valuable to the teams she supported.”
Because of her abilities, she was promoted multiple times, and within several years, became executive assistant to Herbert Parker, who was deputy warden, and later served as executive assistant in the administrations of Commissioners Barbara Ann Bostick and LaMont Flanagan.
“She was a top administrative assistant to several wardens and pretrial commissioners,” said Mark Vernarelli, a longtime friend and colleague, who is spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. “I worked with Nina — directly or indirectly — for about 14 years.”
After the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services took over the city pretrial operation, Ms. Hawkins stayed on. In 2003, she moved to Towson and joined the office of the secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services, where she worked for the deputy secretary of operations, handling matters related to all agencies within the department.
After retiring from the department in 2003, she moved over to the Division of Parole and Probation in the state DPSCS, serving as top executive assistant and administrator to several directors.
Ms. Hawkins’ public safety career spanned the terms of eight Maryland governors. Upon retiring in 2017, she received the Maryland Governor’s Citation for “45 Years of Outstanding Service” in DPSCS.
“Prisoners were touched by Nina because she had been touched by the hand of God,” Bishop Easley said. “She wanted to help them with their lives so they would not be repeat offenders again. It was a unique gift. When you were with Nina, you knew you were in the presence of someone who was special.”
Barbara A. Cooper, who was the public information officer at the state Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, was Ms. Hawkins’ friend and co-worker for two decades.
“We both worked in the commissioner’s office. She was on one floor and I was on another,” said Ms. Cooper, a Randallstown resident. “Her No. 1 strength was that she was an administrator’s administrator. “She was a prolific writer and thinker, and everyone came to her to edit what they wrote. She had a gift as a writer and made sure all i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed. Everything had to be done properly and correctly, and it was clear that she enjoyed what she was doing.”
Ms. Cooper described her friend as having “a very pleasant personality and a spirit of goodwill and anyone who crossed her path knew that. She was seriously minded and very professional.”
She added: “Nina was a giver and a person who would defer her own personal ambitions to help others. She made many sacrifices at the jail and beyond. She worked long hours and would often be there at midnight to make sure that deadlines were met."
Even though Ms. Cooper retired in 2012, the two women kept in touch.
“Nina was just a great person,” she said.
In addition to her work, Ms. Hawkins was the jail’s historian.
“Nina was known as ‘The Historian,‘” Bishop Easley said.
“She kept track of it all,” Ms. Cooper said.
“Nina had remarkable skills and warmth through the tough and trying times because of her amazingly good nature,” Ms. Wood said. “Without question, she enhanced all of our careers and lives.”
In her private life, Ms. Hawkins served as recording secretary to Veterans of the 231st Transportation Truck Battalion, an all-African American Maryland National Guard unit that served in Korea during the Korean War.
She enjoyed using Facebook to keep in touch with the veterans and her colleagues from BCDC. She was a fan of Scrabble and crossword puzzles.
She was an accomplished cook whose “potato salad, fried chicken or Carolina-style pork barbecue were must-haves at gatherings with colleagues, family and friends,” according to the biographical profile. “One rarely left Nina’s home empty handed. She loved shopping and giving those items away.”
Funeral services will be held 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Vaughn Greene Funeral Chapel, 8728 Liberty Road, Randallstown. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the service is limited to 75 family and friends. Those planning to attend are required to contact the family. Social distancing and masks are required at the service, which will also be broadcast online via a link on the funeral home’s website.
She is survived by her husband, of 16 years, Samuel Hawkins Jr., a retired BCDC officer; her daughter, Linnea Denise Johnson of Upper Park Heights; a stepson, Samuel Hawkins III of Charlotte, North Carolina; a stepdaughter, Tamara Hawkins of Middle River; four brothers, Clifton Brown of Woodlawn, Patrick Conner of East Baltimore, Paul Brown of Philadelphia and Aaron Brown of Washington state; an identical twin sister, Alicia “Gina” Richardson of Reisterstown; another sister, Esther Jackson of Queen Creek, Arizona; and two grandsons.