Maurice Rottenberg, 69, accountant who helped establish 2 support groups

March 19, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Maurice Rottenberg, a Baltimore accountant who helped establish two support groups to aid breast cancer patients and their families and those suffering from alcoholism, died of lung cancer Tuesday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 69 and lived in the Gaywood section of Baltimore County.

When his stepdaughter, Jessica Cowling, received a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2000, he and four friends entered the Avon three-day walk in Colorado to raise money for cancer research. They successfully raised $30,000 after completing the 60-mile journey between Fort Collins and Boulder.

"He was heartbroken for Jessica and very tender about it. He was incredible and so inspiring. He just walked and walked and it was so hot. People were fainting and getting sick," said Holly Miller of Burlington, Vt., one of the participants.

"We had walked halfway and told him that he had to go the rest of the way on the bus. He began crying and said he didn't want to. He kept saying, `I have to finish it for Jessica.' When he returned to Maryland, he finished off the remaining miles. Her death changed so many lives," she said.

Miss Cowling, 31, and Ginny Schardt, 44, a close friend who also suffered from breast cancer, met at the Wellness Community, now HopeWell Cancer Support near Towson. They died a month apart in 2002.

The young women's families, who had grown close during their shared ordeal, noticed there were breast cancer patients who were alone during chemotherapy treatments or alone in the hospital.

In order to answer these needs, they founded the Red Devils, a nonprofit organization that provides a variety of services to patients and their families such as companionship, house cleaning, transportation to treatments, prepared meals and restaurant gift certificates.

"We wanted the name to be kind of edgy so they took their name from Katherine Russell Rich's book, The Red Devil: To Hell with Cancer -- and Back. Red Devil is also the name of a common chemotherapy agent," said Mr. Rottenberg's wife of five years, the former Lark Schulze.

Mr. Rottenberg, who was the organization's treasurer, had raised $70,000 last year in order to fund its work.

Gayle G. James was also a founding member of the Red Devils.

"I had 14 girlfriends who have had breast cancer and I had met Jessica. Maurice was an inspirational leader who was so committed and enthusiastic. He was a generous and giving individual," Mrs. James said.

Mr. Rottenberg was an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous and recently celebrated 14 years of sobriety. In addition to his work with AA, he was also an active member of Jewish Addiction Services, a program of the Jewish Big Brother and Big Sister League.

He was also instrumental in developing a local chapter of Jewish Alcoholics, Chemical Dependents and Significant Others, better known as JACS, in Baltimore, and an AA meeting at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. He served on committees of Jewish Addiction Services.

"He was always encouraging us to do more outreach and spread the word in the Jewish community about addiction. He brought his time, energy and persistence. He was always asking, `How many more can we reach out to?' That was his theme," said Kim Friner, director of Jewish Addiction Services.

"He believed in the philosophy of the 12-step program. You can't keep it unless you give it away. You have to share what you have gained," she said.

Mr. Rottenberg was born in Baltimore and raised in Forest Park. He was a 1952 graduate of City College and earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from the University of Baltimore in 1957.

An accountant for nearly 50 years, he maintained a private accounting practice in an office at the Rotunda and was semiretired at his death.

He also was a volunteer tutor at Samuel Coleridge Taylor and Waverly elementary schools in Baltimore. He also enjoyed taking photographs of his young students.

An avid sports fan, he attended the famous 1958 Colts championship game and Orioles World Series games.

Services were held yesterday.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Rottenberg is survived by a son, Jon Rottenberg of Baltimore; a daughter, Mary Rottenberg of Baltimore; a stepson, Michael Cowling of Cockeysville; a sister, Rose Rosenbach of Norfolk, Va.; and many nieces and nephews. His first marriage ended in divorce.

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