Gloria Ashenfelter Jaracz, worked for answering services for 50 years

January 31, 1995|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Gloria Ashenfelter Jaracz, who answered the phones of artists, politicians, writers and businessmen for more than 50 years, died Jan. 23 of cancer at the Joseph Richey Hospice. She was 70.

In 1992, she retired from the Triple A. Answering Service, where she had worked for 23 years. Earlier, she had worked for several other answering services.

Her life behind an old-fashioned plug switchboard centered on wake-up calls and arranging and canceling appointments, or arranging secret liaisons between lovers. Despite being privy to many secrets, she remained the very model of discretion, clients said.

"She was bred to be on the phone and had a natural rapport with people who called," said her daughter and only survivor, Millay Victoria Shipley of Essex.

"She had a smile in her voice and when she said, 'Good morning, may I help you?' everyone could see and feel that smile right through the telephone.

"Sometimes we would be having a hot argument and she'd be angry and I was angry and then the phone would ring -- and it was like someone threw a switch -- and she'd say, 'Good morning, may I help you?' " her daughter recalled.

"And she knew everyone's business but kept her mouth shut," Mrs. Shipley said.

"She was the voice of sanity for a lot of us," said Baltimore City Council President Mary Pat Clarke. "She knew everybody and was a friend to all of her clients. Many used her for years and knew her voice but had never actually met her. She was a wonderful lady."

Steve Zinz, a Baltimore businessman, recalled, "She answered my phone for three years before she ever bothered to send a bill . . . . She knew everyone's husband, their girlfriends, their wives and their boyfriends and all matter of relationships but was always very, very discreet. What a character she was."

Another client was jazz singer Ethel Ennis, who described Mrs. Jaracz' voice as "really very caressing. It was a wonderful voice. I remember when the White House called and it took her some time to locate us but she did. She was so excited about that."

Another routine caller was dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, who would ask her to leave messages for the local photographer he used for his publicity photos.

"She told him how much she loved him, and he sent her an autographed picture that she kept on her door until she retired," Mrs. Shipley said.

When Mrs. Jaracz was younger, she modeled for Joseph S. Sheppard, an artist and teacher at the Maryland Institute, College of Art.

"One Flower Mart day, she was walking with her mother in Mount Vernon Place when she saw Mr. Sheppard who asked, 'Is that you Gloria? I didn't recognize you with your clothes on,' " the daughter recalled.

Mrs. Jaracz was born and reared on Guilford Avenue in Charles Village and was a graduate of Eastern High School.

A lover of opera, she had compiled a vast collection of opera and classical recordings.

"Music was her life. And when she was robbed of her stereo, all of her Charles Village clients pitched into to buy a replacement for her because they knew how much music meant to her," the daughter said. "She was even offered a position by the Metropolitan Opera but had to turn it down because they asked her to lose 20 pounds."

Mrs. Jaracz' marriage ended in divorce.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete.

Memorial donations may be made to the Joseph Richey Hospice, 828 N. Eutaw St., Baltimore 21201.

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