Sally Bormel was congenial, down-to-earth and genuine.
Eating breakfast at Fields one morning in the mid-1990s, Ben Marks quickly learned that one thing Bormel wasn’t was shy.
Both 68 at the time, Bormel had observed Marks in Fields before and decided that now was the time to spark a conversation. They hit it off.
A week later the two chatted in Fields again. This time, Bormel had a question.
“Is it a given that you have to eat breakfast here all the time?” she asked.
“No, why?” Marks responded.
“Good, then you can come over this Sunday, and I’ll make you breakfast,” Bormel said.
It was on that Sunday, and during their 18 years together that followed, that Marks discovered what made Bormel such a special person: She was caring, protective and nurturing. Bormel took an immense amount of pride in simply taking care of the people she loved most.
Early last May, after watching her beloved Orioles stage a feverish, late-inning comeback win, Bormel peacefully passed away at the age of 86. Her funeral service was packed with people, including countless friends she had made through the years.
“Everybody knew Sally,” Marks said. “It wasn’t because she was a big shot or anything like that. She was just a good woman.”
Bormel’s selflessness started early. After her father died in a car accident, she dropped out of high school and went to work to help her mother with the family finances.
She met her future husband, Albert Bormel, while a secretary for Baltimore’s Zionist Organization of America, and two major events resulted from the marriage.
First, Sally, whose maiden name was Litvin, gained an appreciation for a large nuclear family (Albert was the oldest of 13 siblings). And second, Sally’s working days were over.
Albert’s industriousness through his roofing-supply company enabled Sally to fall into (and relish) the role of the ultimate matriarch. Together, the two raised six kids — all born within 10 years of one another — and Sally was the epitome of a do-it-all mother. When the children got ready for school in the morning, a hot breakfast awaited them in the kitchen, as did six neatly prepared brown-bag lunches. She then walked them all to school. (Sally didn’t obtain a driver’s license until she was 50.)
Sally’s mother also lived in the home for as long as her kids can remember.
“Family was so important to her,” daughter Frani Fink said. “She instilled that in all of us.”
After Albert passed away from a heart attack at 70, Sally, 60 at the time, would go on dates here and there, but she never truly found anyone to fill that void.
Meanwhile, Marks, who had two children with his wife before a divorce in the mid-1970s, had also dated. (A little bit more frequently, he admitted.)
However, the connection he felt with Bormel was unlike any other he had experienced. Six months after meeting that morning at Fields, he had already moved into her Pikesville apartment, and from then until her passing, the two were inseparable.
Marks joked that the farthest they ever were apart was when he dropped Bormel off at the front of the grocery store while he went and parked the car. They went out for meals, took trips to the casino and watched practically every Orioles game. When Bormel went to the beauty shop on Saturday mornings, Marks was right there with her.
The two would kiss every night before they went to bed and every morning when they woke up.
“We became like one person. We were so close,” Marks said. “Right now, it’s like me losing my left arm. I go to sleep as late as I can at night because I don’t want to lie in bed and think about it.”
Bormel’s kids would quickly gain an appreciation for Marks.
“We were crazy about Ben from the minute we met him,” daughter Gloria Segall said. “We saw how happy she was, and how many times in life do you get a second chance to meet someone with which you’re so compatible. They had such a wonderful life together.”
And through the relationship Marks acquired more than just one new family member. He has been able to foster relationships with what he calls “the village,” consisting of Bormel’s six children, 13 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Bormel’s zeal for a close, connected family trickled down to her children — and their children. Despite an array of personalities, everyone keeps in touch, everyone gets along.
It comes as no surprise to Marks. For almost two decades, he got to experience what a wonderful person she was.
David Snyder is a JT staff reporter — firstname.lastname@example.org