Karen L. Stabley: High-level manager at The Sun

She held many positions over two decades, including assistant to the publisher

February 16, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Karen L. Stabley, who served in various high-level management positions during her nearly two-decade career at The Baltimore Sun, died of cancer Feb. 8 at her home in the city's Otterbein neighborhood. She was 56.

Karen L. Terry was born and raised in Williamsport, Pa. After she graduated in 1972 from Williamsport High School, she earned a bachelor's degree in 1980 in English from Barry University in Miami, where she had been editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper.

Ms. Stabley, who put herself through college, worked from 1979 to 1981 as a local news editor and writer for Viewtron, an experimental video-text project in Miami that was established by Knight-Ridder Inc.

In 1981, she left Viewtron and launched Gateway, a similar video-text project, for the Times Mirror Co.; the project was terminated in 1986.

Moving to New York City, she worked as a consultant to NYNEX on information system design, database design and development, and training of sales and production staffs.

In 1987, then-Baltimore Sun publisher J. Reginald Murphy asked Ms. Stabley to prepare a study on the feasibility of a joint effort between Bell Atlantic and the newspaper on providing video-text in the Baltimore area.

"I agreed to come for a month," she said in a 1995 interview with Presstime, a publication of the Newspaper Association of America.

"I never met anyone quite like her. She was the most effervescent woman I've ever known," recalled Mr. Murphy. "Everything I asked her to do at The Sun, she did, and she did it very well."

In 1994, she launched Sundial, the newspaper's free audio-text service that provided news updates, horoscopes, weather, games and other promotions to telephone callers.

Ms. Stabley subsequently became director of electronic media, and director and business manager of new business development at The Sun.

She founded the Interactive Newspaper Network in 1989, which helped explain and make such technological advances understandable to corporate executives.

In 1998, she was named director of marketing for the newspaper.

Ms. Stabley was the assistant to The Sun's CEO and publisher, Michael E. Waller, from 2000 until he retired in 2003.

"Karen excelled as assistant to the publisher for about three years and was lots of fun to work with," said Mr. Waller, who became The Sun's publisher in 1997. "She was a very good writer and editor, even though she had little journalism background - her background was sales and marketing."

Colleagues said Ms. Stabley's success stemmed from her ability to adjust to the habits of her various bosses but also to stand her ground if she felt strongly about an idea or issue.

Ms. Stabley and Mr. Waller had an almost Spencer Tracy- Katharine Hepburn type of relationship - two strong-willed people who at the end of the day could laugh and put issues behind them.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Waller had been chief of the copy desk of the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times, before moving on to executive positions.

"One day, Karen came home all worked up. She considered herself a grammarian," said her husband of 20 years, Robert R. Gisriel, a Baltimore architect.

"I asked her what was wrong, and she said, 'Mike doesn't know anything about how to use commas, and he told me I use too many. Anyway, he's the only person I could have had this discussion with,' " Mr. Gisriel said, laughing.

Ms. Stabley's breezy outlook, approachability and easy laugh made her a popular figure throughout the newspaper's Calvert Street building.

"She loved The Sun almost as much as the Ravens. I can remember many a meeting interrupted by her side discussions about the Ravens' next game," Mr. Waller said.

"She was highly organized, worked well with nearly everyone and was trusted by all the departments. We'll sure miss her enthusiasm," Mr. Waller said.

After Mr. Waller's departure, Ms. Stabley was assistant to Lenora Howze, the newspaper's vice president of advertising.

"She was my assistant, and to me, the biggest thing was her ability at unbiased listening at every level throughout the company," said Ms. Howze, who retired from The Sun and is now assistant pastor of Victory Ministries International.

"She accomplished so many things and served me in many roles. First, she was an incredible supporter and my sounding board," Ms. Howze said. "She helped me throughout contract negotiations ... and budget preparations. She developed good relationships."

Ms. Stabley left The Sun in 2005.

She was a world traveler, history buff and a fan of architecture.

"When I found out she was ill, I called her several months ago," said Mr. Murphy. "I could tell from her voice that she was very courageous, and she insisted that no one mourn her and [instead] celebrate her life."

At Ms. Stabley's request, no services will be held.

"Karen wanted a party, and that's what I'm going to do," said her husband.

In addition to her husband, surviving are a sister, Sara Stewart of Williamsport; and several nieces and nephews. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.

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