300 attend mass for Howard Head

March 08, 1991|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Evening Sun Staff

The striking figure -- tall, tanned, completely bald -- strode into the office of the Rev. Robert Leavitt seven years ago.

"I want to marry a wonderful Catholic woman," Howard Head announced to the Roman Catholic priest. "How do I do it?"

During a memorial service for Mr. Head yesterday at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Roland Park, Father Leavitt recalled how the subsequent marriage between the tall, tanned man and the "wonderful Catholic woman," the former Martha Becker Fritzlen, transformed Mr. Head from a "rugged skeptic" into someone who came to know God through a woman's love.

Mr. Head, the Baltimore businessman and philanthropist who made millions by inventing aluminum skis and the large-head Prince tennis racket, died Sunday at Johns Hopkins Hospital of complications from heart surgery. He was 76. His body has been donated to the hospital.

About 300 of his relatives and friends, including prominent members of the local business community, gathered for a

memorial mass in St. Mary's ornate chapel. Tennis star Pam Shriver, who popularized the Prince racket at the 1978 U.S. Open, attended the service.

In his homily, Father Leavitt, the rector of St. Mary's, described the tender relationship between Mr. Head and his wife, who was referred to throughout the service by her nickname, "Marty."

Mr. Head "discovered God vicariously" through his wife, Father Leavitt said. And through her love, the priest added, Mr. Head became able to "recognize the true face of God." This was not the God of the theologians and zealots whom he always was leery of, but rather "the God of love," Father Leavitt said.

The priest mentioned the pleasure that Mr. Head took in psychologist Carl Jung's answer when asked if he believed in God. "I don't know if I believe in God," Jung supposedly said, "but I know God."

It was a sentiment that Mr. Head came to understand and appreciate in his final years.

Sister Constance FitzGerald, a Catholic nun who met Mr. Head 10 years ago, read comments written by Center Stage director Peter Culman, who was out of town. The theater had been a main beneficiary of Mr. Head's largess through the years. Last month, the newly constructed Head Theater was dedicated. The Head family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Center Stage.

Mr. Culman's comments praised Mr. Head as a man who "craved riveting theater, and riveting, gutsy life." And like Father Leavitt, the theater director cited the positive impact Marty Head's love had on her husband.

Sister Constance also spoke of that love. She offered her own remembrance of the man who remade skis and tennis rackets as someone whose "last and perhaps greatest reconstruction project" was the way he "re-created his personality -- his soul, if you will -- through the love of his wife. Religious people call this conversion. Psychologists call it something else."

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