Known as a gentleman and professional communicator with a calming presence, longtime Baltimore media and PR professional William “Bill” Toohey has died at age 69 following the discovery of late-stage intravascular lymphoma.

One of NPR’s first correspondents and a mentor to many in the communications field, Toohey was well known as the civilian spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department for nearly 14 years. His most high-profile assignment was handling media relations in 2000 as killer Joseph Palczynski terrorized residents, killing four people and taking a family of three as hostages in one of the longest one-man standoffs ever known. Police shot Palczynski 27 times at the Dundalk home where he had barricaded himself and others.

” ‘Joseph Palczynski is dead.’ The whole nation heard Bill Toohey’s words pronouncing the end of a nightmare siege by a madman,” recalled Jeff Raymond, chief of the Division of Communications and Community Affairs at the Baltimore City Department of Public Works. “But I will remember Bill’s words to me over breakfast about three years ago, telling me I’d make a fine Baltimore Public Relations Council president as he passed the baton. And I recall his calming words to me after I’d stepped into a whirlwind of a job at the Baltimore City Department of Public Works. I also know how he guided others in the public relations field. Whether he was delivering a message to millions, or just one, Bill was wonderful. A mentor in the truest sense. A great person.”

Toohey came to Baltimore in 1986 to work as a reporter for what was then WJHU (now WYPR), and moved on to become interim news director and evening anchor. He later served in communications roles for U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski and former Senator Paul Sarbanes.

He started his career as NPR‘s first New York correspondent shortly after the network went on the air in 1971, reporting on local and national stories for All Things Considered and Morning Edition.

For the past five years he was director of communications for the Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention. He also taught communications at Towson University.

“Bill was always willing to be a guest speaker to a crisis communications class I taught at Goucher College,” said Baltimore photographer and PR pro Harry Bosk. “Students loved listening to his stories not just for his insights but also because of his quick wit. A typical comment from his ‘Rules for the Media’ was TV news relies on visuals so they are drawn to police cars’ flashing lights like moths to a light bulb. He was also generous. Goucher provides a stipend to guest lecturers and he would donate his to Volunteers of America.”

He is survived by his wife, WNEW news anchor Rosemary Frisino-Toohey.

A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday, March 31, at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church, 1727 Lynch Road in Dundalk. The family will receive friends on Sunday, March 29, and Monday, March 30, from 2 – 5 p.m. and 7 – 9 p.m. at the Connelly Funeral Home of Dundalk, 7110 Sollers Point Road.

[Photo: Liam Toohey, Facebook]

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