Evelyn L. Shaffer, 88, early telephone operator

August 25, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Evelyn L. Shaffer, one of the first telephone operators in Baltimore to record the weather when the service began, died Tuesday of heart failure at the home of her son in Govans. She was 88.

In March 1940, Baltimore became one of the first U.S. cities to inaugurate the automatic weather information service when the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland began recording daily weather forecasts.

About 35 operators, known -- according to a Sun report at the time -- for their "dulcet voices and good diction" were selected by the phone company to record the daily weather messages.

The service proved so popular on its first day in operation that about 21,000 weather-minded callers dialed WE-2222 and listened to the 30-second message.

Mrs. Shaffer began her telephone career in 1927 in the era of candlestick and crank telephones, working as an operator in the Evergreen-Tuxedo Exchange on Belvedere Avenue, asking callers for "number, please" to complete their calls.

In 1936, she was promoted to supervisor and sent to the Madison Exchange, where the weather forecasts were edited and recorded.

Weather data arrived by Teletype from the U.S. Weather Bureau, and the operator recording the message was required to edit the copy and record it on magnetic tape, all within the established 30-second format. The message was changed hourly as the temperature, humidity and wind velocity and direction changed.

For a time, it was a common impression in Baltimore that someone stood for 24 hours intoning: "This is the United States Weather Bureau forecast for Baltimore and vicinity: Mostly cloudy "

In the early days before a soundproof room was constructed, it was quite common for street noises, clanging streetcars, screaming ambulances or loud voices under the windows of the Madison office to be picked up during the forecast recording.

After the Madison office was converted to dial operation in 1960, Mrs. Shaffer was transferred to the Towson office as supervisor and later chief operator until her retirement in 1968.

"She had a quality voice. In fact, it was a great voice," said her son, Don P. Shaffer of Govans.

She was remembered by former operators who worked with her as being "patient, quiet and unflappable" and a person who accepted technological changes easily.

Loretta Hudson, who retired in 1978 after working 32 years for the phone company, said, "She was even-tempered and never raised her voice. If she wanted to correct something that you were doing wrong, she'd say, 'If I were doing it, this is how I'd do it.' She suggested and not demanded, and everyone appreciated that."

Helen Bond, who got to know Mrs. Shaffer in 1941 when both worked at Madison, said, "Her friendliness certainly came through in person and on the phone. She was really a wonderful person."

"Oh, my, all of the operators loved Evelyn," said Pauline Hopper, who retired in 1984 after 39 years with the company. "And she had marvelous anecdotes about her job."

The former Evelyn Jones was born on Cedar Avenue and later moved to Hampden. A graduate of the old Eastern High School, then at North Avenue and Broadway, she worked in a laundry and a dressmaking factory before going to the telephone company.

She was married in 1925 to Edward "Buck" Shaffer, a city firefighter, who died in 1976.

She enjoyed gardening and participating in reunions and meetings of the Telephone Pioneers of America. She was a lifelong member of St. Luke's Evangelical Church in Hampden.

A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Henry W. Jenkins and Sons funeral home, 4905 York Road, Baltimore.

In addition to her son, she is survived by four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to St. Luke's Evangelical Church, 36th Street and Chestnut Avenue, Baltimore 21211.

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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