BALTIMORE -- Mary J. Corey, whose personal warmth was matched by a drive that led her to become the first woman in The Baltimore Sun's 176-year history to head its newsroom, died Tuesday of breast cancer.
The Sun's senior vice president and director of content, who was 49, essentially grew up at her hometown paper, joining it as a college intern and rising through its reporting and editing ranks. She led The Sun to regional Newspaper of the Year honors during the past two years and spearheaded new print and digital sections while building on its tradition of investigative journalism.
"Mary was an outstanding colleague and a wonderful person," said Timothy E. Ryan, publisher, president and CEO of The Baltimore Sun. "When I had the opportunity to select her as editor in 2010, I knew she would be an extraordinary leader for our team. Amid an unprecedented information revolution, Mary used her leadership and creativity to position The Sun for the future. She was exceptionally adept at driving the vital work of the newsroom while embracing opportunities for growth in the digital age.
"She was a friend and mentor to many here, and I will miss her both as a colleague and a friend."
Taking the helm three years ago, Corey led almost 200 journalists at The Sun and its community newspapers and magazines during challenging times. Fiercely devoted to the newspaper that she grew up reading as the youngest of three sisters in Cockeysville, Md., she steadied the newsroom as the industry was contracting and adjusting to a new media landscape.
Perhaps most personally meaningful for her was the return in 2010 of the Sun Magazine, 14 years after it ceased publication -- Corey got her start in journalism at the magazine while still a student at what is now Notre Dame of Maryland University. The magazine's editor at the time, Susan Baer, spoke at a class there. Corey met her and boldly followed up with a phone call asking for an internship.
"We had a small staff and didn't have any internship position, but I was so struck by her initiative -- and something about her that was so impressive -- that I convinced my supervisor to let her come on," said Baer, a longtime Sun journalist and now a writer in Washington. "It was obvious right from the start that Mary was something special. She was bright and funny and spunky and so incredibly likable. And she had this spark -- just full of enthusiasm. She brightened up the place. It was clear to everyone that she had a great career in front of her."
Baer also became a close friend, part of a circle of women who orbited around Corey. Over the years, they celebrated each other's weddings, pregnancies and promotions, and provided solace during the inevitable heartbreaks, illnesses and losses.
"I've so often marveled at her seemingly infinite capacity for friendship," said her friend and former editor Jan Warrington. "It seemed boundless. She was the friend we always wanted to have, the friend we always wanted to be."
Warrington, a psychologist who formerly headed The Sun's features department, hired Corey as an editorial assistant in 1987 but soon promoted her to reporter. Corey covered Baltimore's dining scene, profiled newsmakers and celebrities, and served a tour as fashion writer.