Donald Lee Brodsky, a former federal mediator who helped resolve the 1974 Baltimore teachers strike, died Saturday of heart failure at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. He was 73 and lived in Bel Air.
Mr. Brodsky was assigned to the Baltimore office of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, where his work was defined by the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which required that mediators assist management and labor in resolving contract disputes while "preventing or minimizing" work stoppages.
Born in Baltimore, the son of a union steamfitter, he was raised on North Ellwood Avenue. After graduating from Patterson High School in 1949, he attended the University of Baltimore on a soccer scholarship and earned a bachelor's degree in industrial management in 1953.
Mr. Brodsky started his career in personnel and industrial relations at Crown Cork and Seal Co. Inc., Thompson Wire Co. and Eastern Stainless Steel.
He became a commissioner with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in 1967, working in Washington, Richmond, Va., and Philadelphia before returning to Baltimore in 1970.
Whenever there was a labor dispute in Maryland, Mr. Brodsky or one of his two colleagues usually helped resolve contractual differences.
"The federal mediators are the neutral third party, the unbiased voice of reason, the grease in the grinding gears of collective bargaining, moving back and forth between conference rooms, urging a union committee to soften its demands or coaxing management to bend a little," Mr. Brodsky said in a 1982 profile in The Sun. "They cajole, prod and sometimes even `lean' on both sides in their efforts to resolve a dispute."
The "tough ones" were the disputes that ended in strikes, he said. "That's really traumatic," he said.
"While the two parties bring problems, Don brought reason, experience and a collective bargaining approach to the table," said D. Scott Blake, director of the Federal Mediation Service's northeast region, which is based in Philadelphia.
"He had a unique ability at using humor or whatever else was needed to bring the parties together. He never wanted them to walk away thinking they had given up or mad. He wanted them to leave the table with a sense of dignity and an understanding of each other's position."
Vickie Hedian, president of Abato, Rubenstein & Abato, a Baltimore law firm that specializes in labor relations and collective bargaining, sat across the table from Mr. Brodsky in negotiations for 20 years.
"Don was always brought into difficult or contentious negotiations. He was a very calming presence, " said Mrs. Hedian.
"Each of us brings his own style [to dispute resolution], and Don was a great gentleman," said Leo A. Gant of Cub Hill, a longtime friend and retired federal mediator.
"He brought to the situation determination, patience, courage and a wealth of knowledge, He was a very even-keeled individual and never excitable. He never had to raise his voice."
In addition to helping end the 1974 Baltimore teachers strike, Mr. Brodsky helped resolve a 1978 strike by the Newspaper Guild at The Baltimore Sun and countless other labor disputes. He retired in 1998.
He was an avid golfer and a member of the Maryland Golf and Country Club.
Mr. Brodsky read classic literature and World War II history. He also enjoyed listening to classical music.
He was a member of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church, 10 Lexington Road, Bel Air, where services will be held at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
Mr. Brodsky is survived by his wife of 49 years, the former Norma Jean Teague; two daughters, Donna B. Tower of Bel Air and Pamela B. Berger of Baltimore; a brother, Morris Brodsky of Fincastle, Va.; a sister, Esther Brett of Baltimore; and five grandchildren.