Kathleen Louise Polk, T. Rowe Price executive, dies

Former T. Rowe Price vice president was a donor to local philanthropic causes

  • Kathleen Polk
Kathleen Polk
December 17, 2010|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

Kathleen Polk, a retired T. Rowe Price vice president and activist for social issues who cultivated a wide circle of friends, died in her sleep Sunday at her Roland Park home. She was 65.

"She embodied the idea that strength and compassion don't have to be opposing values," said Dr. Daniel Munoz, a Johns Hopkins cardiologist and friend. "She was fiery, smart, but full of warmth at the same time."

Born Kathleen Louise Gelinas in New York City, she attended the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan and earned a bachelor of arts degree from Newton College in Newton, Mass. Early in her career, she became a financial analyst for Dunn and Bradstreet in San Francisco.

She moved to Baltimore with her husband, Dr. B. Frank Polk, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health epidemiologist and pioneer in AIDS research.

"From the day they met, they stood by each other's sides and supported each other's endeavors," said her daughter, Genevieve Polk of Berkeley, Calif.

Dr. Polk died of a brain tumor in 1988. A 1989 Evening Sun story detailed Mrs. Polk's role in the unveiling of a bronze plaque commemorating her husband's contribution to patient care and scientific progress. The plaque bearing the Polk name still hangs outside the HIV/AIDS inpatient treatment center in the Hopkins Osler Building.

In 2007, Mrs. Polk was instrumental in the establishment of the B. Frank Polk Fund, a Hopkins endowment aimed at supporting the work of talented scientists in the early stages of their careers.

"Her generosity had no limits," said Dr. Alvaro Munoz, a Hopkins professor of epidemiology and a close friend. "She conceived the fund as a way of nurturing the research of promising young medical minds."

As a tribute to her, Hopkins officials changed its name this week to the Kathleen and B. Frank Polk Faculty Support Endowment Fund.

In 1985, she joined investment firm T. Rowe Price and later worked at T. Rowe Price International. She managed global client relations and frequently traveled to the firm's London office. Officials at the firm said that in 2001, her role evolved and she became a "critical" member of a team that created investment communications, including shareholder reports.

"She was a wonderful writer," said Meredith Callanan, the director of corporate marketing, who lives in Arnold. "She will be remembered as someone who genuinely cared about people and had her finger on the pulse of the firm's culture and well being. She epitomized cooperation and openness."

Mrs. Polk retired in 2008 as a T. Rowe Price vice president.

A member of St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church on Calvert Street, she served on the parish council and worked for its 1999 renovation and its historic trust fund.

"She was a terrifically popular person, intelligent, cultured and impressive," said the Rev. J. William Watters, its pastor. "She was full of compassion for the poor and those who needed help. She had a perspective on issues; she could fluently speak about finance, politics, ecology and literature."

Mrs. Polk also served on the steering and grants committees and was archivist of the Baltimore Women's Giving Circle.

"She was wise and thoughtful and brought her sense of humor to the circle," said Ellen Bernard, the group's co-chair. "She had a wonderful way of making people feel comfortable. She certainly had a great commitment to Baltimore."

Friends said Mrs. Polk cultivated a wide circle of friends.

"She just simply sparkled," said a friend, Lynn Deering, who lives in Baltimore. "She brought her wisdom, wit and warmth and had an enormous capacity for friendships. She introduced her friends to each other and was a trusted, wise adviser to them."

Mrs. Deering recalled her friend's ability to enter a new situation. "She was comfortable with herself and made others feel comfortable as well. She conveyed a sense of expectation. She was ready for the next thing," she said.

She recalled Mrs. Polk's "incisiveness" in discussing a novel at a book club they attended. "In her observations, she could bring laughter into a room, laughter that revealed people and situations," she said.

She also described Mrs. Polk's visual sense, her sense of fashion and love of colors.

"She enjoyed visiting gardens. And going to a museum with her became a much expanded experience," she said.

Another friend, Thea Schnydman, said, "In many ways Kathleen always stayed a New Yorker, but she adjusted to the village ways of Roland Park. I think of her compassion for other people and of her quiet thoughtfulness."

Friends said Mrs. Polk attended Center Stage, films at the Charles Theatre and Peabody Conservatory of Music concerts. She was also a member of the preservationist group Baltimore Heritage. She traveled frequently with her daughters, sisters and friends.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 8 at St. Ignatius, 740 N. Calvert St.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include another daughter, Dr. Sarah Polk of Baltimore; two sisters, Elaine O'Regan of Hartsdale, N.Y., and Margaret Dalva of New York, N.Y.; and two grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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