Mary Ruff Brush, who owned and managed North Baltimore's Broadview Apartments for 60 years and successfully challenged Baltimore's historic preservation commission when she wanted to put parking on a nearby property, died of renal failure April 20 at her Marathon, Fla., home. She was 87.
Born Mary Ellen Ruff in Baltimore, she was the youngest daughter of John K. Ruff, a Randallstown stone mason who built apartment houses and Towson High School. She was a 1940 Catonsville High School graduate and earned a business degree from the University of Maryland, College Park.
In 1950, she joined her father in opening the 465-unit Broadview Apartments at 39th Street and University Parkway near the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus. It was then the largest apartment house in Baltimore. Mrs. Brush moved to the Broadview after a few years and resided on its 12th floor until her death.
"She took the reins from her father and ran the building," said Debbie Stallings, the building's manager. "Until she was 84, she was coming to work every day and carrying a full load of responsibility."
Her company also developed and managed the Dulaney Valley Apartments in Towson and the Woodcliff Manor Apartments near the Broadview.
Colleagues said she was among the first women to serve as chief executive officer of a real estate management company. A 1960 Baltimore Sun article said she was the first woman to hold an office in the Apartment House Owners Association of Maryland.
She was also a member and past president of the Institute of Real Estate Management. In 2009, she was honored for 60 years of membership.
"Having no 60-year pins, she was recognized with two 30-year pins," said Ms. Stallings.
In 1977, Mrs. Brush and her firm acquired a West 39th Street property, the Ascot House, which she sought to demolish for additional parking. She was challenged by the city's Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation, which designated the 1910 residence a city landmark. Mrs. Brush waged a campaign to raze the house and appeared at a City Council hearing. In 1981, the state Court of Special Appeals sided with her and overruled a city judge and the preservation commission.
She had the Ascot House demolished and its site used for parking. Several years ago, she sought to have an enlarged parking structure placed on the site.
"She just didn't give up on it," said Ms. Stallings, who added that Mrs. Brush encountered opposition from a community group and backed down.
Mrs. Brush was one of the original members of the Women's Giving Circle at the Baltimore Community Foundation. She also enjoyed deep-sea fishing and once owned Beeshive, an oyster trawler converted into a fishing yacht. She was a member of the Marathon Yacht Club.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. May 15 at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, Charles Street and Mount Vernon Place.
Survivors include a brother, John Ruff of Ellicott City; a stepson, Roy Brandt Jr. of Raleigh, N.C.; and a stepdaughter, Linda Burns of Port St. Lucie, Fla. Her husband of five years, Leroy Brandt, died in 2005. A previous marriage to Robert Brush ended in divorce.