Clifford C. Bruck Sr.

The Western Maryland Railway executive was an opera fan and a friend of soprano Rosa Ponselle

March 18, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Clifford Cole Bruck Sr., a retired Western Maryland Railway executive and longtime opera buff, died Wednesday of complications from Parkinson's disease at the Presbyterian Home of Maryland in Towson. The longtime Guilford resident was 93.

Mr. Bruck was born in Baltimore and raised in Forest Park. After graduating from Forest Park High School in 1932, he earned a bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 1936.

Mr. Bruck also attended the University of Maryland School of Law at night, earning a degree in the 1960s.

He began his career with the Western Maryland Railway in 1939 in the railroad's offices, then located in the Standard Oil Building at 501 St. Paul Place.

"It was in the mailroom," said his son, Clifford C. "Chip" Bruck Jr. of Towson. "It was the Depression, and he took any job he could get."

Mr. Bruck rose through the ranks and was vice president of sales and marketing when he retired in 1977.

"He was one of my best friends on the Western Maryland," said Yerby R. Holman, a retired rail executive who lives in Sykesville. "His career was in the sales department, and I really admired how he administered the department."

Former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a former maritime editor of The Sun and a friend of Mr. Bruck's, described him as "one of those detail guys."

"Cliff always made sure all the i's were dotted and the t's were crossed. He did all the cleanup on deals before they were finalized," she said.

One of Mr. Bruck's lifelong passions was the opera. For 30 years he had been a trustee of the Baltimore Opera Company and was a close friend of soprano Rosa Ponselle.

He also had been a member of the board of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, Children's Chorus of Maryland and the Young Musicians' Series Inc.

After mezzo Irina Mishura fell and broke her wrist on the opening night of the Baltimore Opera Company's 1998 production of Carmen, Mr. Bruck recalled in an interview with The Sun how the opera was considered cursed by performers.

He noted that not even Ms. Ponselle was immune. Ms. Ponselle made her Baltimore debut as Carmen the last night of the Metropolitan Opera Company's three-night Baltimore season at the Lyric in April 1936.

Mr. Bruck, a senior at Hopkins at the time, had a one-night job as a supernumerary in the opera production. "I was a chimney sweep and was paid the princely sum of $1," he recalled in the interview.

At the end of the third act, Rene Maison, singing the role of spurned lover Don Jose, flung the great soprano to the floor in an overly energetic moment, injuring her arm. The opera was stopped while Dr. Hugh Hampton Young, a noted Johns Hopkins Hospital physician, was summoned from the audience to examine Ms. Ponselle, who had broken a small bone in her forearm. She returned to the stage and completed her performance.

"Years later, I reminded her of that night, and she said it was also the same night that she'd 'met that Jackson guy' at a post-opera supper at the Roland Park home of Dr. Young," Mr. Bruck said.

The "Jackson guy" turned out to be the polo-playing son of Baltimore Mayor Howard Jackson, and he and Ms. Ponselle were married that year, moving to Green Spring Valley.

Mr. Bruck enjoyed attending Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concerts and spending summers at Northeast Harbor, Maine.

A resident of the Presbyterian Home since 2004, he was a longtime member of the Roland Park Presbyterian Church, where he had served as trustee and treasurer.

He was a former president of the Flag House & Star-Spangled Banner Museum and was a member of the Maryland Club, Johns Hopkins Club and the St. George's Society.

His wife of 68 years, the former Louise Cecil Maldeis, died last year.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. today at the Presbyterian Home, 400 Georgia Court, Towson.

Also surviving are two daughters, Carol C. Bruck of Ellicott City and Judith B. Holden of Mays Chapel; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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