Thomas Murray dies pushed early for Baltimore's renewal Former Fells Point bar owner died of heart attack in Ohio.

April 30, 1991|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Evening Sun Staff

Thomas Murray, the former owner of Ledbetter's tavern in Fells Point and one of the first true believers in the revitalization of Baltimore's waterfront, died Saturday of a massive heart attack near his home in Kettering, Ohio. He was 44.

"It's far and few between, the Tom Murrays of this world," said Joe Ehrmann, a former defensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts and a close friend of Murray's.

A mass of Christian burial is scheduled at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at the University of Dayton Chapel, to be led by a longtime friend, Monsignor John F. Kinsella of Baltimore.

Interment will follow at David's Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

During the 1970s, Murray played a colorful and important role in promoting the Fells Point area as a tourist attraction. His efforts helped convert it from a derelict old waterfront neighborhood to a popular place to go for an evening of food, drink and entertainment.

His death was "just a tragic thing," Ehrmann said. "To be that young, that charismatic and that full of life. . . . He was able to make things happen. That's the kind of people we need most in this world."

Murray was born in Baltimore and grew up on Cator Avenue, in Blessed Sacrament Parish. He graduated from Calvert Hall College in 1965 and from the University of Dayton in 1969.

He returned to Baltimore in 1970 and bought Ledbetter's, hoping to get Fells Point in on the rebirth that was being sought for the Inner Harbor waterfront.

"Tom loved Baltimore, he loved the Inner Harbor," said Murray's widow, the former Darlene Saverino. He joined forces with other bar owners in a bid to revive Fells Point because "he really wanted that section to become the core, by the water and the harbor they all loved so much."

"It was a very fast-paced life. He made many friends there," she said.

Murray became president of the Fells Point Merchants Association, and began promoting the area with a variety of daytime and nighttime festivals designed to draw media attention and new people to Fells Point.

His physical presence -- he weighed in excess of 300 pounds -- his expansive personality, his sense of humor and infectious laughter went a long way in attracting attention and people to his cause.

"A lot of his friends called him Ollie," recalled old friend and competitor "Turkey Joe" Trabert. It was a reference to the rotund comedian Oliver Hardy, who teamed up with the skinny and hapless Stan Laurel.

"He looked like Ollie but laughed like Stanley. He had this high, whiny laugh that would make you laugh like he laughed," Trabert said.

Among those he attracted were members of the Baltimore Colts.

"I was a rookie with the Baltimore Colts and there was six of us pTC who were going to live together," Ehrmann said. "We started driving around to find a refrigerator, stopped in to get a beer and met him. He had a tremendous impact on all our lives."

"He was the kind of guy who could rally people around him," he said. "He was a kind of good will ambassador for Baltimore, and he helped introduce a tremendous number of Colts to the real essence of Baltimore."

Ledbetter's was "a place where a guy could go and not be 'Joe Ehrmann, Baltimore Colt,' but just Joe Ehrmann. I was able to become good friends with the policeman, the beer truck driver. . . . It was a very healthy environment."

Murray also used his tavern to help with charitable activities, including one of the first fund-raisers for the Ronald McDonald House.

Trabert, former owner of Turkey Joe's in Fells Point, said Murray was an imaginative promoter for Fells Point. He and the other bar owners worked to give patrons the impression of intense and sometimes not-so-friendly competition among the bars.

"It was a great routine we played with each other," he said. But it was an act. "It just got people interested in coming to Fells Point."

His death is difficult to accept, he said. "A guy as young as Tommy, who was so alive and such a presence when he was there, you just know you're going to be looking around and you're gonna see him there . . . saying 'Surprise, I'm back.' "

Murray sold Ledbetter's in 1977, married and moved to Dayton, where he bought the Punkin Patch restaurant near the University of Dayton campus.

He was employed in sales by Allied Wine and Spirits in Dayton at the time of his death.

In addition to his wife, Murray is survived by two children, Christine and Jeff Murray of Kettering; two sisters, Mary Alice Lewis of Baltimore and Patricia Trageser, of Ocean City; and one brother, William J. Murray of Baltimore.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to a scholarship fund established in Murray's name, in care of the University of Dayton Development Office, 300 College Park, Dayton, Ohio, 45469.

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