Jeanne D. Hitchcock may be the most influential woman in Baltimore with the fewest mentions in the city’s daily newspaper. That’s not to suggest she’s not well known. After more than a half-century of work — in law, at the NAACP and in government service — her reputation among Maryland movers and shakers as a woman to see is well established. But she’s not someone to seek the limelight or to toot her own horn. Rather, she’s someone who advises, who negotiates, who solves problems and who has proven particularly adept at matching talented people with jobs that suit them. As former Gov. Martin O’Malley recalls, he never interviewed a candidate for a judgeship (one of the more consequential decisions of any governor) without Jeanne Hitchcock in the room with him asking questions and mulling over answers.
“She’s simply one of the most capable people I’ve ever worked with,” recalls Mr. O’Malley who first hired her as deputy mayor of Baltimore and then appointments secretary when he was elected governor. “She was an awesome public administrator for the toughest problems and for the long haul of the daily regimen.”
Born at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Jeanne is a Baltimorean through and through. Her grandfather was a caterer. Her father, Earl Dougherty, worked for the Veterans Administration. And her late mother, who is fondly remembered as “Miss Dorothy,” was a Renaissance woman who went to college at age 50, after many years as a housewife, to become a librarian. The family was also a well-known presence at Sharp Street United Methodist Church and on the west side of the city generally. Jeanne was raised on old-fashioned, working-class values where dinner was served promptly by 6 p.m. and current events were certain to be a topic of conversation over the evening meal. Education was prized in her family. And so were civil rights. They were friends with activist Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. and his family. As a student at Booker T. Washington Junior High, she once toured the newly-opened Social Security Administration building in Woodlawn and loudly asked why all the African-American workers labored in the cafeteria and not in the offices. Her teacher “flipped,” as she recalls but Juanita Jackson Mitchell, the first woman to pracice law in Maryland, later heard the story at church and suggested she had a future as a lawyer.
She did, but it was not a direct route. After graduating from Morgan State University with a degree in sociology in 1968, Ms. Hitchcock did a stint in social services, married, had children and eventually attended classes at University of Maryland School of Law. Juggling kids and classes, she finished in three straight years and, after a fellowship at Legal Aid, found herself advocating for tenants rights in the era of lead paint poisoning. It was then she came to the attention of Stephen Sachs, Maryland’s attorney general, who eventually made her one of his top assistants and later the office’s representative in the State House. He remembers taking her for a series of meetings with Eastern Shore counties advising elected officials on the need to create voting districts to increase the likelihood of minority representation in their white, male-dominated county commissions and town councils. She was not shy about speaking up. “She’s a class act and proudly assertive,” he recalls. “She makes no apologies for her outspokenness but she does it with care.”
After that, there was a stint in private practice and then a move to Dallas, Texas,, where she served as manager of urban affairs for Southland Corporation of 7-Eleven fame. She returned to Baltimore to help Kweisi Mfume run the NAACP before joining the O’Malley team in City Hall and then, when the mayor was elected governor, moving on to serve as appointments secretary and ultimately as chief legislative officer. “The word you should use to describe Jeanne is ‘reliable,” insists Larry S. Gibson, the influential Baltimore Democratic activist and law professor. “Whatever she agreed to do, you could always have confidence that it would get done.”
In recent years, Jeanne has been employed at The Johns Hopkins University as a special advisor for local government, community and corporate affairs. She expected to be at least semi-retired by now, but the Freddie Gray incident and its aftermath in 2015, along with concerns about policing on and off campus, kept her fully engaged. She is well suited to the challenge. Her office is in the former Eastern High School, which she attended as a teen. Like so many of her jobs, she works to bring people together, to improve the lives of Baltimore’s African American community and, perhaps most important of all, she does not walk away from a challenge. That’s a quality she learned back in her youth when her mother insisted she attended a YWCA camp so that she might help desegregate it. She cried for “two weeks,” but she did it.
“Don’t forget that Jeanne is a caregiver, a mom and grandmother. She’s one of the most deep-feeling people I know,” says Michael Cryor, the former state Democratic Party chair who has known her since they were teens. “She’s not only been a trailblazer in this community but her roles have often been pivotal. In public or private, she’s the same person — someone of integrity and values. It’s an honor to know her.”
Jeanne D. Hitchcock
Education: Booker T. Washington Junior High School; Eastern High School; B.A. in sociology, Morgan State University; J.D., University of Maryland School of Law
Hometown: Baltimore City
Current residence: Baltimore City
Career highlights: Assistant social worker, Baltimore Department of Social Services; assistant attorney general; managing partner, Fugett and Hitchcock law firm; director of urban market development at The Southland Corporation in Dallas, Texas; chief operating officer of NAACP National Office; deputy mayor of Baltimore (1999-2007); secretary of appointments to Maryland’s governor (2007-2015); governor’s chief legislative officer (2014-2015); special advisor to the vice-president on local government and community affairs at Johns Hopkins University and Medicine (2015-present)
Civic and charitable activities: College Bound board of directors, chair of the board of the East Baltimore Development Corporation, past board chair of the Mount Auburn Cemetery
Family: Divorced. Two daughters, seven grandchildren, three great grandchildren