Re­becca Polen Hart­man

Hos­pi­tal so­cial worker spe­cial­ized in care for in­ner-city fam­i­lies and in her spare time en­joyed danc­ing and mu­sic

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES - By Fred­er­ick N. Ras­mussen fras­mussen@balt­sun.com

Re­becca Polen “Becky” Hart­man, a so­cial worker whose ca­reer at Si­nai Hos­pi­tal’s Com­mu­nity Care Depart­ment spanned al­most 40 years, died Aug. 13 at Si­nai Hos­pi­tal from can­cer. She was 70.

“She was very com­mit­ted to our pa­tients and our pe­di­atric out­pa­tient depart­ment, which pri­mar­ily serves the in­ner-city poor and the Park Heights neigh­bor­hood,” said Dr. Os­car “Ozzie” Taube, med­i­cal di­rec­tor of the depart­ment.

“We try not to be a clinic and bring personal and per­son­al­ized health care. Re­becca was a real cham­pion of that,” he said. “She was an ad­vo­cate and knew that fam­ily health was more than im­mu­niza­tions and treat­ing some­one with strep throat. She knew the so­cial en­vi­ron­ment of the fam­ily was tremen­dously im­por­tant and that so­cial fac­tors play a key role in health.”

The daugh­ter of Jack Polen, a cloth­ing sales­man, and Myra Polen, a home­maker, Re­becca Polen was born in Philadel­phia and moved to For­est Park and later Pikesville with her fam­ily.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 1963 from Mil­ford Mill High School, she re­ceived a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in 1967 from the Univer­sity of Mary­land, College Park, and a master’s de­gree in so­cial work from the Univer­sity of Mary­land School of So­cial Work.

She be­gan her ca­reer at the Kennedy Krieger In­sti­tute at Johns Hop­kins Hos­pi­tal, work­ing with dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren and chil­dren with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­or­ders.

Ms. Hart­man joined Si­nai Hos­pi­tal’s Com­mu­nity Care Depart­ment in 1977, and worked with pe­di­atric pa­tients for nearly 40 years un­til re­tir­ing in May be­cause of de­clin­ing health.

Dur­ing her ca­reer, she pushed for in­no­va­tions such as home vis­its and started a “Reach out and Read” ini­tia­tive where ev­ery child was given a free book. Some of her ef­forts were cited in pro­fes­sional publi­ca­tions.

“Re­becca was very out­spo­ken and had a bois­ter­ous laugh that could be heard all over the build­ing,” Dr. Taube said. “When she fought for her pa­tients, they were al­ways very ap­pre­cia­tive.”

Ms. Hart­man’s work was ref­er­enced in “Within Our Reach: Break­ing the Cy­cle of Dis­ad­van­tage,” writ­ten by Lis­beth B. Schorr, se­nior fel­low of the Cen­ter for the Study of So­cial Pol­icy, and her hus­band, Daniel Schorr, the for­mer CBS news cor­respon­dent and later Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio com­men­ta­tor. Their book was pub­lished in 1988.

Ms. Hart­man and Dr. Taube col­lab­o­rated on a piece about tips for par­ents of teenagers for the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics, said Ten­ney Ma­son, of Sykesville

Ms. Hart­man was some­thing of a free spirit, ad­ven­ture­some and gifted with a fun-lov­ing per­son­al­ity, said Mr. Ma­son, for­mer head of the photography depart­ment at Patux­ent Pub­lish­ing Co., who had dated her since 2008.

When one of her med­i­cal col­leagues at Si­nai, Didi Nwokori, a na­tive of Nige­ria, was get­ting mar­ried in her na­tive vil­lage, the bride-to-be ex­tended wed­ding in­vi­ta­tions to fel­low staff mem­bers, though she fully ex­pected none would be able show up.

She un­der­es­ti­mated Ms. Hart­man, who made the trek to Dr. Nwokori’s vil­lage and “spent a week liv­ing like the lo­cals with­out many of the com­forts of western civ­i­liza­tion,” Mr. Ma­son wrote in a bi­o­graph­i­cal sketch of Ms. Hart­man. “Ev­ery day the women of the vil­lage trekked over a mile with buck­ets to get wa­ter ... and Ms. Hart­man of­ten went along.”

As a teenager, she had danced the jit­ter­bug on the le­gendary Buddy Deane Show, and as a college stu­dent, back­packed across Europe with a friend and fel­low stu­dent from Univer­sity of Mary­land. She also at­tended the Wood­stock mu­sic fes­ti­val in Bethel, N.Y., in 1969.

Ms. Hart­man’s fa­vorite ac­tiv­i­ties in­cluded danc­ing and lis­ten­ing to the blues. She was an avid rhythm-and-blues fan.

“She would con­tinue her love of ’50s style danc­ing un­til sev­eral weeks be­fore her death as an ac­tive mem­ber of the DC Hand Dance Club,” wrote Mr. Ma­son.

The DC Hand Dance Club, Mr. Ma­son said, meets pri­mar­ily at bars and Amer­i­can Le­gions halls in Anne Arun­del and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties. Ms. Hart­man danced with the club sev­eral times a week, he said.

Ms. Hart­man was a long­time mem­ber and of­fi­cer of the Bal­ti­more Blues So­ci­ety. She took part in 11 Le­gendary Rhythm and Blues Cruises — week­long cruise ship voy­ages to the Caribbean with more than 30 blues and other bands play­ing some 20 hours a day, Mr. Ma­son said.

Ms. Hart­man vol­un­teered as a weekly usher at the Hip­po­drome The­ater. She was in­volved in many or­ga­ni­za­tions, and would sell raf­fle tick­ets or work booths to help with fundrais­ing.

She was also ac­tive in Demo­cratic pol­i­tics and in 2004 trav­eled to Ohio with her brother to knock on doors to get out the vote for then-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date John Kerry.

“She was a tough nut who didn’t take any guff from any­body, and loved to tell the story about how she and a fe­male friend went to a blues bar in Ce­cil County on New Year’s Eve — and got thrown out for protest­ing a cover charge,” Mr. Ma­son wrote.

A me­mo­rial ser­vice will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 9 at Sol Levin­son & Bros. Inc., 8900 Reis­ter­stown Road, in Pikesville.

In ad­di­tion to Mr. Ma­son, Ms. Hart­man is sur­vived by her brother, Larry Polen of Lutherville; and a nephew. Her mar­riage to Don­ald Hart­man, a Bal­ti­more po­lice of­fi­cer, ended in di­vorce. Re­becca Hart­man joined Si­nai Hos­pi­tal’s Com­mu­nity Care Depart­ment in 1977.

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