To those who declare that 2019 is the “Year of the Woman,” Marion W. Pines would happily respond, “Finally!”
A feisty 94-year-old Pikesville resident whose career spans more than six decades, Pines certainly has earned the right to say it’s about time. Tapped by the late Mayor William Donald Schaefer in 1972 to head a new city agency, the Mayor’s Office of Manpower Resources, Pines was always a force to be reckoned with. She’d walk into a male-dominated conference room and pens would drop, talking would cease and like the old EF Hutton commercials, when Marion spoke, everyone listened.
They still do.
A well-known figure in local and national public service, workforce development and academic circles, Pines has provided opportunities and afforded dignity to thousands of Baltimore residents. These days, the Beth Am congregant is still going strong, actively making a difference in the lives of hundreds of city students.
(Full Disclosure: Marion Pines was my first boss, my role model, my mentor, my colleague and is my friend.)
During a recent lunch date with Marion, I prodded her to discuss her expansive career. Modestly, she ticked off a litany of accomplishments. In the early ‘70s, she started the MOMR, an agency that over the years put hundreds of thousands of teenagers and adults to work.
In 1984, Pines became Baltimore’s first woman housing commissioner. She oversaw the Maryland’s Tomorrow high school drop-out prevention project. She taught graduate-level public policy courses at Johns Hopkins University and established the Sar Levitan Center for Social Policy Studies, a think tank at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies.
In addition, Pines authored several books and publications exploring solutions to urban poverty and challenges facing at-risk youth. She served on numerous national boards and commissions.
And in 2004, she and I partnered to create and operate the Academy for College and Career Exploration, a Baltimore City high school that currently enrolls more than 500 students in a college and career curriculum.
I asked Marion what drew her, as a young piano teacher, into public service. She smiled, saying, “As a graduate of Goucher College, I attended its 75th anniversary [in 1960]. Its theme was, ‘Human Values in Emerging American Cities.’ I got hooked and had to immediately change the world!”
That passion to make a difference, coupled with her adventurous spirit, enabled Pines to dive headfirst into a field in which she had no real experience. When Schaefer said he wanted her to be his “Manpower man,” she grabbed the opportunity and ran with it, despite not knowing what manpower exactly meant.
“You never know what you’re capable of doing,” she said. “I saw an open door and I went in.”
Fresh out of college when getting my first job at the MOMR, I was immediately in awe of Marion, particularly her ability to be in control and command respect as a strong and effective leader. Over our recent lunch, we spoke about what it took during those early years for her to be a powerful woman in the workplace.
“I was always a risk-taker,” she said. “Also, I knew the importance of building a team of smart and talented people, and I let them take risks. Their intense loyalty served me well.”
Over the years, I continued to watch and learn from Marion. Not only did she reach great heights in her professional life, she enjoyed a wonderful marriage for 66 years and raised two successful sons. I asked what advice she would offer young women today about achieving career success while finding balance in their personal lives.
“I tried to bring my family into my work and share what was important to me,” Pines said. “My kids loved coming into the office and knowing what I did every day. Blending your passion with your love of family — that’s a challenge but it works.”
Recently, Pines traveled to Cuba and Peru, climbed Machu Picchu and visited Morocco. I asked her how she satisfies her insatiable curiosity and thirst for knowledge.
“Well, I’m always learning something new,” she said. “I take opera classes, I go to Shepherdstown [W. Va.] every summer for the theater, and for the past five years have gone to Chautauqua Institution [a nonprofit education center and summer resort in Chautauqua, N.Y.] to study music and politics …. food for the soul.”
Despite being a nonagenarian, Pines’ calendar this year is already filled with classes, meetings, lectures and trips with family, including her three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. As I looked at my dear friend, I asked what more I can learn from her about living a full and remarkable life.
She simply responded, “Make a difference every day.”
A Baltimore-based freelance writer, Karen Sitnick is the former director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development.