Karen McGruder, an aspiring librarian at 5 who made a career of researching people, places, and complex topics from the special libraries of foundations, news organizations, and investment firms, died Saturday in Georgetown University Hospital in Washington. She was 54.
She had metastatic breast cancer but was able to work until two months ago as a reference and consulting librarian for the RAND Corp. Her names appears as an author of RAND guides on funding sources, foreign language resources, and international affairs, and a co-author of guides on defense policy and homeland security and terrorism, according to a RAND Web site.
After nearly 20 years in Manhattan, the Toledo native moved to Washington two years ago, but found that too many people were dull and phony and too many restaurants bad. Besides, Washington had "too much sky," her brother Gregory said. "She considered New York City home."
Before Rand, Ms. McGruder conducted research for Russell Reynolds, an executive head-hunting firm; was a librarian at Citigroup; the former Salomon Smith Barney; LexisNexis; Newsweek; the Ford Foundation; the former New York Newsday; and the Conference Board.
"Every job was a favorite of hers," her brother said.
She took an expansive view of her field, that poring through bound volumes wouldn't be enough.
"Karen early on knew it was about gathering information and being able to find information, and she was very adept at it," her brother said. "With no training, she was a whiz at computers and information systems right when [they were] taking off."
Ms. McGruder knew as a child what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her aunt Barbara Foggie was a librarian, and "that was an influence on Karen," her brother said.
For Citigroup Private Bank, which accepted only clients who had assets in the multimillions, she researched prospects.
"Using her keen research and detective skills, Karen often found problematic 'clients' and saved the bank literally millions of dollars it may have lent out to noncredit-worthy clients," a Citigroup manager wrote in a recommendation on her LinkedIn page.
She was born Sept. 9, 1957, to Jean and Elmer McGruder and grew up in the Secor Gardens neighborhood near the University of Toledo. The McGruder children took art and music classes at the Toledo Museum of Art. Karen learned to play the recorder and played clarinet in the marching and concert bands at Rogers High School. She was a 1975 graduate.
She also took part in the Glassmen Drum and Bugle Corps.
She received a bachelor's degree from Wellesley College and worked at the Main Library and the Reynolds Corners branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. She did course work at the University of Toledo and played in an early music group there. To advance in her field, she attended Rutgers University, from which she received a master of library science degree.
She was a founding member of the Rutgers African-American Alumni Alliance.
She returned regularly to Toledo for visits with family members and friends. She spent a year in Mexico so she could learn Spanish and traveled the world. She easily struck up conversations, whether with waiters or a passerby whose scarf she liked.
"She had a wicked and arch sense of humor and a wonderful sense of style," her brother said. "One thing so many of her friends shared with us -- she was selfless. At the same time, she didn't put up with fools either."
Surviving are her parents, Jean and Elmer McGruder; brothers, Ronald, Gregory, and Kevin McGruder; and sister Katrina Cogdell.
Memorial services are to be scheduled in Toledo and Washington.
The family suggests tributes to the Warren AME Church Scholarship Fund in care of Hattie Jackson; the American Cancer Society; or Our Voices of Hope, an advocacy and support group in Washington that helps raise awareness of metastatic breast cancer.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: email@example.com or 419-724-6182.
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