Gabrielle Donnally Wise, 85, Sun feature, fashion writer

September 28, 2005|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

Gabrielle Donnally Wise, a former feature writer for The Sun and avid Orioles fan, died of cancer Sunday at the Presbyterian Home of Maryland in Towson. She was 85 and had been a longtime resident of the Mount Vernon neighborhood.

Miss Wise - known as Gay to friends and colleagues - was born in Bethlehem, Pa., the daughter of a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad bridge engineer, and raised in Relay.

After graduating from Catonsville High School, she attended the University of Maryland, College Park and West Virginia University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1940.

She briefly worked for Hutzler's department store before taking a job in 1940 with The Sun as a copy holder in the composing room.

Her 51-year newspaper career - 43 spent in the newsroom - included jobs taking classified ads in the business office of the old Sun building at Baltimore and Charles streets, and as a clerk in the newspaper's library.

In 1948, she joined The Evening Sun as a city desk clerk, with duties that included answering telephones, taking dictation from reporters and writing brief fillers.

In 1963, she was promoted to a reporting position in the morning newspaper's features department. Her varied assignments included the first holly tour of historic Baltimore homes and churches, the first Fells Point Fun Festival, art exhibitions, profiles of visiting authors, and stories about senior citizens, volunteers, the Flower Mart, homes and gardens, flea markets, neighborhood histories and coffeehouses.

But Miss Wise probably is best remembered for her many years as fashion writer for The Sun.

"Fashion really became an informal beat for her and it filled a need for the newspaper, and from a writer's perspective, I think it was her main contribution to The Sun," said former feature writer Earl Arnett.

Miss Wise traveled to New York several times a year, spending a week or more making the rounds covering the designers unveiling their designs. She also routinely reported on fashion shows held at Cross Keys or in Belvedere Hotel ballrooms.

Her reporting reflected a crisp knowledge of fashion and a sharp eye for trends and what women in Baltimore would or would not wear.

Sensing changes in 1968, she wrote, "If the swingers, kooks, and would-be color wearers are listening, they may be forced to take cover by the time the latest bit of reaction sets in. The trend is toward the classics, the ladylike and the more subdued."

Reviewing women's bathing suits for the 1979 summer season, Miss Wise observed, "The maillot is still high on the hit parade, with bikinis more than holding their own. The one-pieces are higher-cut on the thighs, though, and there are cutouts that don't seem to have been tried before."

She added: "Plunges are lower than ever, and backs scooped even lower. Engineering being what it is, the high and the low treatments can't always be on the same items, or they'd fall apart."

"She wrote some pretty darn good stuff for The Sun. She wasn't a hotshot, but she wrote good stories," said retired assistant managing editor John H. Plunkett. "People were grateful for what she wrote and she always had a nice, gentle touch."

Miss Wise's style of dress was often the antithesis of what she found on the chic runways of New York's celebrity couturiers. She dressed informally, preferring colored shifts and corduroy jumpers that she highlighted with a set of large brown beads.

Her headwear during the winter months was a Korean War-era leather aviator's cap, which she wore flaps up or down depending on the severity of the weather. In the summer months, she shunned hats and brightened her steel-gray hair with colorful headbands.

She retired in 1991.

An avid Orioles fan who seldom missed a home game or an Orioles off-season cruise - she had been on more than 15 of them - she always dressed in orange and black when going to the ballpark.

"She loved those cruises and dancing with Earl Weaver, who was a shoulder shorter than she. Another good friend of Gay's was Elrod Hendricks," said Jesse Glasgow, a former financial editor of The Sun.

"Gay certainly was a character and lived in her own world. She reflected a genuine quirkiness and eccentricity," Mr. Arnett said.

Miss Wise's life revolved around The Sun, the Orioles and the First and Franklin Street Presbyterian Church, where she had been a longtime member, friends said.

For years, she lived in an apartment in The Severn on Cathedral Street before purchasing a Tyson Street rowhouse. And because she never owned or drove a car, she was an inveterate walker and public transportation rider.

At her church, she served breakfasts to the homeless and was a member of the Women's Association, and Bible study and peace and justice committees. After her neck was broken in a fall more than a year ago and she moved into the Presbyterian home, she donated her rowhouse to the church.

"Gay never put on airs, and I felt everyone who knew her felt that way. People liked her for who she was," said the Rev. Alison Halsey, pastor of the church at 210 W. Madison St., where a memorial service is planned for 1 p.m. Sunday.

Despite her infirmities, Miss Wise was able to attend meetings of The Geezers, a weekly luncheon gathering of Sun and Evening Sun newsroom veterans, where she enjoyed sipping a Bloody Mary and catching up on the latest newspaper gossip.

She is survived by a sister, Mary Porter Wise of Miami, Fla., and several nieces and nephews.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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