Erna Segal, a writer and former Maryland Shock Trauma Center public affairs specialist who chronicled the lives and work of the center's medical staff, died Tuesday of complications from dementia at Largo Medical Center in Largo, Fla.
The longtime Pikesville and Randallstown resident was 83.
The daughter of furniture store owners, Erna Selznick was born and raised in Staten Island, N.Y., where she graduated in 1947 from Curtis High School.
Mrs. Segal started her college studies at Long Island University and dropped out when she was 19 to marry Dr. Stanley Robert Segal, whom she had met a year before.
After marrying, they settled in Tamaqua, Pa., where her husband established his optometric practice, and moved in 1950 to Baltimore when he became part owner of National Optical.
Mrs. Segal, who had been studying commercial art before her marriage, began designing window displays for her husband's offices in Reisterstown Road Plaza and Eudowood Plaza.
While raising her family, Mrs. Segal studied art at what was then Catonsville Community College. It was in the 1970s, and after taking a course, "New Horizons for Women," at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, she decided at age 45 to return to college and earn a degree.
"I was her youngest child, and when I went off to college, she did as well," said her daughter, Cheryl Segal of Gulfport, Fla. "She graduated a year earlier than I did because she had already earned some college credits."
In 1977, Mrs. Segal earned a degree in American studies from UMBC, and then went to work for the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, where she served in a variety of roles.
She created audiovisual presentations and displays, recruited volunteers, wrote news releases and photographed Scout activities for publications.
"In a brush with future greatness, my mother once recalled a gathering of inner-city Girl Scouts meeting with a local television personality — Oprah Winfrey," her daughter said.
"The girls, my mother said, crowded around Winfrey wanting her autograph, but she declined. Instead, my mother said, Winfrey hugged each one of them," said Ms. Segal.
Even though science was not her "strong suit," her daughter said, Mrs. Segal became a medical writer and technical editor in 1980 at what is now the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Mrs. Segal's first job was working as a technical editor and audiovisual specialist, where she conducted in-depth interviews with doctors on a wide range of subjects, including the new field of audiovisual education.
"For the continuing education course in presentative medicine, she edited hours of grand rounds, spending time with doctors extracting information from them, which she later included in a slide-tape presentation," her daughter said.
After the two-year grant that had brought Mrs. Segal to Hopkins ended, she joined the research and development office at the Perry Point Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 1983 as an editor writing technical and public relations materials.
A year later, she became a public affairs specialist at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where she interviewed doctors, paramedics and other medical professionals for articles about public safety and emergencies that were published in the center's newsletter.
She also coordinated, wrote and edited the center's annual reports until retiring in 1991.
Four years after she retired, she had to call 911 for assistance after her husband passed out.
"One of the emergency workers who responded looked at my mother and said, 'I know you. You interviewed me,'" her daughter said. "I don't think she realized how many people knew her because of her job."