Time at Enoch Pratt Free Library was so long...


June 01, 1993

KATE COPLAN'S time at Enoch Pratt Free Library was so long ago that "publicist" hadn't been coined yet; the term then was "public relations." She was, by considerable, Baltimore's smoothest p.r. person.

That's an understatement. Try it this way: from the 1930s on into the 1960s, with Kate ministering to the minds of Baltimore's newspaper, magazine and radio people and thereby to the whole community, Pratt Library was commonly thought of as the municipal agency most eager to be of service. Her library, we writers and editors supposed, was very likely the most helpful one anywhere.

Kate died the other day (but last month was as lively as ever, on the phone, in her 92nd year -- rejoicing that she had lived to see Democrats in the White House again). (One advantage to retirement: in letters to the Forum, she could finally take sides on public issues.)

Anyway, should some 21st century publicist be interested, here are a couple of her techniques. At work, a watchman let her in every morning at 6:30. By 9, when Pratt's switchboard opened and the calm ended, she already had half the day's work done. When the personal appeal from Sun Square came in, somebody on deadline and frantic for this book or that fact, Kate herself, in her top-floor office, took the call and relayed its urgency to the right department downstairs.

When an idea for a Pratt story occurred to her, not only did she have a queue of debtors; aware of edition times, she knew when and when not to call. Unbelievable, the number of Pratt stories the newspapers ran. Unfailing, the hand-written note of thanks afterward to the writer of a story uplifting Pratt.

Another flash of keenness: occasionally Kate called in story tips or suggestions that had nothing to do with Pratt. And she was a first-rate judge of story possibilities (Ed Young, the legendary city editor, speaking: "Kate, if you ever leave that library, we could put you to work here."). In two old-fashioned words, good will.

From 1958 through 1967, on an April Saturday at a downtown hotel, Pratt Library and the Sunpapers put on a Books & Authors Luncheon. Whose idea was the whole thing? Who lined up two of each year's three big-name, no-payment author-speakers? The very p.r. person who, herself the author of three books on exhibit and bulletin board displays, never went near the podium.

In retirement, she carefully stayed away from Pratt -- but not from p.r. Her niece Joan is married to Chris Merritt, the celebrated operatic tenor. Nowadays some people don't read the newspaper and its concert critiques (egad, some don't use the library). But if you were a friend or Pikesville neighbor or American Library Association acquaintance of Kate's, you knew about Joan's husband.

With her assistants Charles and Frank Cipolloni, there in the corner window at Cathedral and Mulberry, what a display she'd have done on Chris Merritt.

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