Paula S. Schaedlich, former longtime chief operating officer at the National Aquarium in Baltimore who was prominent in zoological circles, died Nov. 24 of pancreatic cancer at her home in Mayfield.
She was 66.
"Paula was an amazing person, and her imprint at the National Aquarium after 32 years will continue," said Nancy A. Hotchkiss, vice president in charge of visitor experiences and education at the aquarium.
The daughter of William Schaedlich, a Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. worker, and Helen Schaedlich, a schoolteacher, Paula Sue Schaedlich was born in Fort Morgan, Colo., and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, where she graduated in 1967 from Roosevelt High School.
While a student at Iowa State University — where she earned a bachelor's degree in 1972 in English — Ms. Schaedlich began working for nonprofits promoting family farms, solar power and environmental stewardship, family members said.
After college, Ms. Schaedlich held a variety of jobs. From 1973 to 1977, she worked as a media coordinator organizing local, regional and national conferences for the Iowa Public Interest Research Group. In 1977, she was a co-founder of the Community Action Research Group, which specialized in energy, food and agriculture, and environmental issues.
From 1977 to 1978, she was the Midwest field representative for the National Center for Appropriate Technology and Midwest field representative for the Agricultural Project of the Conference on Alternative State and Local Policies.
Ms. Schaedlich was conference director for the Infant Formula Action Coalition in Washington from 1979 to 1980, and helped organize the Nestle Boycott Coalition.
She spent 1980 as the conference director for the Center for Renewable Resources, also in Washington, and in 1981 arrived in Baltimore as project coordinator at the National Aquarium, a position she held for a year before being named program coordinator.
"She started at the then-brand-new aquarium on a one-year contract in 1981 and quickly rose through the ranks with her intelligence, commitment, and Midwestern work ethic," Shelley Smith, a Denver journalist who had been her roommate at Iowa State, wrote in a profile of Ms. Schaedlich.
In 1992, she was named senior director of planning, education and visitor services. From 2000 to 2005, she was deputy director for programs and operations.
Ms. Schaedlich told The Baltimore Sun that attendance increased after the aquarium unveiled a new "double entry" system in 1992 that allowed visitors to enter through the Pier 3 building and the Marine Mammal Pavilion on Pier 4, and a new computerized ticket system.
"Our revenues are up, and we've reduced our lines. We are finding that we can get more visitors through and give them a better experience at the same time," she said.
In the early 1990s, the aquarium broadened its mission and sought to create a bond between people and animals in the hope of inspiring visitors to work at protecting the environment.
"There's an ongoing debate about preaching and teaching," said Ms. Schaedlich in a 1993 interview with The Sun. "Part of our board says you should stop teaching. Another part of the board says that given the state of the planet, you can't stop teaching. So we're heading in the direction of advocacy and action."
From 2006 until her retirement in 2014 because of failing health, Ms. Schaedlich was the National Aquarium's chief operating officer.
"Paula brought the most amazing ability to be inclusive. She was process-driven and not product-driven," said Ms. Hotchkiss. "She wanted to get everyone involved, and everyone wanted to work with Paula and accomplish things together."
"You knew when you were working with Paula that you had a voice. She'd listen to everyone and then would say, 'Here's where we're going now. She was always the calm person in the room and people were drawn to her because of that little twinkle she had in her eye,'" she said.
"She also rose up and was constantly taking on new responsibilities. Our executive directors saw that Paula could take a challenge, incubate and nurture it, and then spin it off," said Ms. Hotchkiss.
She described Ms. Schaedlich as "quiet, classy and elegant."
"She did not like the spotlight. She enjoyed watching others get it. She was totally not driven by ego," said Ms. Hotchkiss.
"She received several prestigious awards for her work throughout her 32-year career at the aquarium, including the Distinguished Integrity Award for her leadership contribution to the organization," wrote Ms. Smith.
She was the first winner of the annual Frank Gunther Employee of the Year Award and, in 2005, was presented the Greater Baltimore Committee Leadership Program Award.
Ms. Schaedlich was also a consultant and assisted with the master plan interpretive program at the Akron Zoological Park in Ohio, served on the advisory board of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and was on the exhibit advisory board of the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons. She also was on the exhibit master plan review of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro, Calif.
She held various positions with the American Association of Museums and the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.
The Morning Sun Newsletter
Get your morning news in your e-mail inbox. Get all the top news and sports from the baltimoresun.com.
In her private life, Ms. Schaedlich had a penchant for offbeat adventures, such as riding bayou wetlands airboats, attending the National Accordion Festival in Texas, or seeking out Mardi Gras celebrations in small Louisiana towns — "the quirkier the better," wrote Ms. Smith.
"She had brilliant attentive eyes and a ready laugh for life's ironies," wrote Ms. Smith. "She had a wicked sense of humor that could deflate the pompous and leave her companions giggling and laughing uncontrollably."
Ms. Schaedlich's favorite bar was Henninger's Tavern, 1812 Bank St., Fells Point, where a celebration of her life will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
She is survived by her husband of 28 years, Dick Ruess, a carpenter; a daughter, Julia Ruess of Sydney, Australia; and her mother, Helen Schaedlich of Des Moines.