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Tracy Hogg, 44; author, nanny was dubbed the 'baby whisperer'

LOS ANGELES --Tracy Hogg, a British-born nurse and best-selling author who was dubbed the "baby whisperer" for her ability to sooth prickly newborns and their anxious parents, died of melanoma Nov. 25 at a hospice in Doncaster, England. She was 44.

Ms. Hogg was the author of the 2001 book "Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect and Communicate With Your Baby." She was given the nickname by a Hollywood executive who, after observing Ms. Hogg with her colicky newborn, was reminded of the 1998 movie "The Horse Whisperer," in which a respectful, empathic trainer played by Robert Redford heals an injured horse.

"She had the ability to come into the room incredibly quietly and settle the baby and handle the baby with such compassion and confidence and training. It was truly like the magic touch," said Elisabeth Seldes, a former studio executive, who sought Ms. Hogg's help when her son was born in 1997.

Ms. Hogg cared for more than 5,000 babies, including those of celebrities Jodie Foster, Cindy Crawford, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Michael J. Fox. When "Ally McBeal" star Calista Flockhart adopted a baby boy in 2001, she booked Ms. Hogg for seven weeks.

Critics said that despite the mystical connotations of the "Baby Whisperer" title, her book offered simple common sense. Ms. Hogg agreed that although there was nothing magical in her approach, it had "a light-bulb effect" on neophyte moms and dads.

She was not an extremist on touchy issues such as breast-vs.-formula feeding, but did not favor sleeping with one's baby. She used cute acronyms to present her basic formulas for contented parenting, such as "EASY" (Eating, Activity and Sleeping for the baby; the "Y" stood for "time for You") and "SLOW" (Stop and remember that crying is a baby's language; Listen to a baby's cry to decipher its meaning; Observe a baby's actions and gestures; the "W" was to remind parents to evaluate "What's up").

At the heart of Ms. Hogg's message, however, was respect for a baby's individuality.

"She was always concerned about teaching parents about their [baby's] privacy, about their being actual little people," said her daughter, Sara Fear. "The babies had their own space."

Ms. Hogg also encouraged parents to talk to their babies. For instance, the first thing she said all parents should do when they bring a newborn home is give the baby a tour of the house. She always introduced herself to a baby, regardless of whether the infant was three minutes or 3 months old, and insisted on explaining everything.

"Babies are sensate creatures," she told an Australian newspaper in 2001. "When you are tired, they pick that up, so it's OK to say to a baby, 'I don't know why you are crying but I'm going to figure it out.' It's about communicating and having a continual dialogue with the infant."

Ms. Hogg was a Yorkshire native from a family of nine children. She and three of her siblings were sent to live with their grandparents, who became key influences.

Her grandfather was the head nurse in what was commonly called a lunatic asylum. He took Ms. Hogg to visit the children's ward when she was 7. She related to the children with such patience and warmth that, after several visits, her grandfather encouraged her to consider becoming a nurse.

When she was 18, she entered nursing school and became a registered nurse and midwife who specialized in children with disabilities. "To help them," she wrote in her book, "I had to learn to understand their language and to become their interpreter."

She called her grandmother, Florence, her greatest influence. With her gentle and intuitive ways, Florence was Ms. Hogg's model baby whisperer.

When Ms. Hogg moved to the United States in 1992 with a new husband, she sent her two young daughters, then 8 and 11, to live with their grandmother while she established herself as a baby nurse here. Her decision opened her up to criticism when she became famous, with articles suggesting that she had abandoned her own children in order to care for those of America's rich and famous. But she defended her decision, saying that she still saw her daughters often and wanted them to have the parenting she enjoyed with her mother and grandmother. Her daughters later came to live with her in Los Angeles.

Seldes named Ms. Hogg the baby whisperer after she calmed down her infant son, whose colic Ms. Hogg found was actually reflux.

Thanks in part to celebrity endorsements, Ms. Hogg won a $750,000 book advance for "Secrets of the Baby Whisperer," which ran on best-seller lists for 11 weeks. She then wrote "Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers" (2002) and "The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems," an advanced guidebook on sleeping, feeding and behavior challenges, which will be published in January. All three books were co-written with journalist Melinda Blau.

Ms. Hogg also had a television program on Discovery Health channel called -- what else? -- "The Baby Whisperer."

In addition to her daughter Sara Fear, Ms. Hogg, who was married and divorced twice, leaves another daughter, Sophie, her mother, and her grandmother.

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