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Rebecca Polen 'Becky' Hartman, a longtime Baltimore area social worker, has died.
Rebecca Polen 'Becky' Hartman, a longtime Baltimore area social worker, has died. (Handout / Baltimore Sun)

Rebecca Polen "Becky" Hartman, a social worker whose career at Sinai Hospital's Community Care Department spanned almost 40 years, died Aug. 13 at Sinai Hospital from cancer. She was 70.

"She was very committed to our patients and our pediatric outpatient department which primarily serves the inner city poor and the Park Heights neighborhood," said Dr. Oscar "Ozzie" Taube, medical director of the department.

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"We try not to be a clinic and bring personal and personalized health care. Rebecca was a real champion of that," he said. "She was an advocate and knew that family health was more than immunizations and treating someone with strep throat. She knew the social environment of the family was tremendously important and that social factors play a key role in health."

The daughter of Jack Polen, a clothing salesman, and Myra Polen, a homemaker, Rebecca Polen was born in Philadelphia and moved to Forest Park and later Pikesville with her family.

After graduating in 1963 from Milford Mill High School, she received a bachelor's degree in 1967 from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master's degree in social work from the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

She began her career at the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital, working with disadvantaged children and children with learning disabilities and developmental disorders.

Ms. Hartman joined Sinai Hospital's Community Care Department in 1977, and worked with pediatric patients for nearly 40 years until retiring in May because of declining health.

During her career, she pushed for innovations such as home visits and started a "Reach out and Read" initiative where every child was given a free book. Some of her efforts were cited in professional publications.

"Rebecca was very outspoken and had a boisterous laugh that could be heard all over the building," Dr. Taube said. "When she fought for her patients, they were always very appreciative."

Ms. Hartman's work was referenced in "Within Our Reach: Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage," written by Lisbeth B. Schorr, senior fellow of the Center for the Study of Social Policy, and her husband, Daniel Schorr, the former CBS news correspondent and later National Public Radio commentator. Their book was published in 1988.

Ms. Hartman and Dr. Taube collaborated on a piece about tips for parents of teenagers for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said Tenney Mason, of Sykesville.

Ms. Hartman was something of a free spirit, adventuresome and gifted with a fun loving personality, said Mr. Mason, former head of the photography department at Patuxent Publishing Co., who dated her since 2008.

When one of her medical colleagues at Sinai, Didi Nwokori, a native of Nigeria, was getting married in her native village, the bride-to-be extended wedding invitations to fellow staff members, though she fully expected none would be able show up.

She underestimated Ms. Hartman, who made the trek to Dr. Nwokori's village and "spent a week living like the locals without many of the comforts of western civilization," Mr. Mason wrote in a biographical sketch of Ms. Hartman. "Every day the women of the village trekked over a mile with buckets to get water ... and Ms. Hartman often went along."

As a teenager, she had danced the jitterbug on the legendary Buddy Deane Show, and as a college student, backpacked across Europe with a friend and fellow student from University of Maryland. She also attended the Woodstock music festival in Bethel, N.Y., in 1969.

Ms. Hartman's favorite activities included dancing and listening to the blues. She was an avid rhythm-and-blues fan.

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"She would continue her love of '50s style dancing until several weeks before her death as an active member of the DC Hand Dance Club," wrote Mr. Mason.

The DC Hand Dance Club, Mr. Mason said, meets primarily at bars and American Legions halls in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties. Ms. Hartman danced with the club several times a week, he said.

Ms. Hartman was a longtime member and officer of the Baltimore Blues Society. She took part in 11 Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruises — weeklong cruise ship voyages to the Caribbean with more than 30 blues and other bands playing some 20 hours a day, Mr. Mason said.

Ms. Hartman volunteered as a weekly usher at the Hippodrome Theater. She was involved in many organizations, and would sell raffle tickets or work booths to help with fundraising.

She was also active in Democratic politics and in 2004 traveled to Ohio with her brother to knock on doors to get out the vote for then-presidential candidate John Kerry.

"She was a tough nut who didn't take any guff from anybody, and loved to tell the story about how she and a female friend went to a blues bar in Cecil County on New Year's Eve — and got thrown out for protesting a cover charge," Mr. Mason wrote.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 9 at Sol Levinson & Bros. Inc., 8900 Reisterstown Road, in Pikesville.

In addition to Mr. Mason, Ms. Hartman is survived by her brother, Larry Polen of Lutherville; and a nephew. Her marriage to Donald Hartman, a Baltimore police officer, ended in divorce.

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