A selection of Healthy Holly books written by Catherine Pugh
A selection of Healthy Holly books written by Catherine Pugh (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh defended her self-published children’s book series in a lengthy statement that came a week after it was revealed she had a lucrative business deal with a hospital system whose board she served on for nearly two decades.

Pugh came under fire after The Baltimore Sun reported she failed to fully disclose a longstanding deal with the University of Maryland Medical System, where she served as a board member since 2001 until resigning Monday. Pugh self-published a series of children’s books titled “Healthy Holly,” and the hospital network purchased 100,000 of the books between 2011 and 2018 in deals totaling $500,000.


In her statement, Pugh noted she has been publishing books since 1979 and writing for 25 years.

“I started working on the Healthy Holly concept more than a decade ago after attending a conference on childhood health and obesity, and, for several years, I put a great deal of time and my own money into developing it,” the statement said. “It was a project that I was passionate about, and I was excited for the opportunity to expand its reach. I recall passing the time by thumbing through the first book before [a] UMMS meeting. One my colleagues loved it and thought it would help advance children’s health.”

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Pugh did not identify the colleague referenced in the statement.

The mayor broke her silence about the controversy in an interview with The Sun on Wednesday, calling inquiries into her deal with UMMS a “witch hunt.”

In her written statement, Pugh recounted the actions she has taken to address the matter, including resigning from the UMMS board; updating her financial disclosure forms (“I’m not sure why this oversight occurred, but it has been corrected,” she said); returning the latest $100,000 payment from UMMS; and reporting the income on her tax returns.

She declined Wednesday to provide copies of her personal and business tax records related to the deal.

“I plan to keep working to improve the health of children in our city,” Pugh’s statement said, “and I will keep writing — with this experience in mind.”

Pugh was one of nine members of the UMMS board who had business deals with the hospital network worth hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars each, The Sun found. In addition to Pugh, two other members of the board have resigned since the deals were brought to light, and four others have taken a leave of absence. The medical system’s CEO, Robert A. Chrencik, was placed on leave Thursday.