Franklin B. Gatch Jr., top land-use planner

August 10, 1994|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

Franklin Bryan Gatch Jr., an accomplished land-use planner, foster parent and benefactor to a Vietnamese family he knew TC from his wartime Army intelligence service, died Saturday at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin. He was 49.

Mr. Gatch, who was named four months ago as executive director of the Wilmington Metropolitan Area Planning Coordinating Council in Delaware, suffered a heart attack while vacationing with his family in Bethany Beach.

He had been a resident of Millington in Queen Anne's County, where he and his wife, Paula, were raising two foster children. Since 1987, the couple had been foster parents to about eight children, a brother said.

Known for his concern for the environment -- particularly that of the Chesapeake Bay -- Mr. Gatch worked as an administrative planner for the Maryland Office of Planning for 25 years. He began that job upon his return from Vietnam, where he was wounded in the enemy's Tet offensive in early 1968.

Mr. Gatch was an Army lieutenant who often acted as a courier transporting top-secret documents, said his brother, Benton Gatch of Perry Hall. "He had some hair-raising experiences over there. He was a high-profile courier, transporting top-secret material under dangerous and hectic conditions."

During that time, he befriended Antoine Trung Le, a Vietnamese who was working for the U.S. Army as a personnel specialist. Lieutenant Gatch and Mr. Le were very close but were separated during the chaos of the North Vietnamese assault, said Mr. Le, who now lives in Gaithersburg.

Mr. Le said he learned that his friend had been wounded and was sent home. "I didn't have to wait very long before I got his first letter from overseas," he recalled. "He expressed concern for me and my family. We were living in Saigon and the war was very intense at that time.

"He sent me some canned food. He said it wouldn't last long, but it was a small token of his friendship to me. I appreciated it very much," Mr. Le said.

The two men wrote to each other often during the next six years, with Mr. Gatch sometimes sending $25 checks. Finally, when Saigon was about to fall in 1975, Mr. Le left the country and came to the United States with Mr. Gatch as his sponsor.

"He was a bachelor at that time and had a small three-bedroom house in the Hampden area of Baltimore," Mr. Le said. "He was very sincere in offering sponsorship to my family. . . . This was the best friend that I had ever met."

Mr. Le, his wife, three children and his mother lived in Mr. Gatch's bachelor quarters for eight months, with the elder Mrs. Le preparing Vietnamese dinners each day.

Eventually Mr. Le landed a job -- thanks to Mr. Gatch's help in writing and sending resumes -- as an income maintenance specialist with the Montgomery County Department of Social Services. He still holds that job.

"I grieve very much for this man. He was very good to me and my family," said Mr. Le, who kept in touch with Mr. Gatch over the years through occasional cards, letters and phone calls.

Mr. Gatch earned a master's degree in public administration from the University of Baltimore. He was involved in the St. Dennis Roman Catholic Church in Galena, where he was a eucharistic minister.

Among his land-use projects was the revitalization of the Port Deposit waterfront area, for which he received a gubernatorial commendation.

Mr. Gatch's family has a rich Maryland history, having originally settled in the Baltimore area in 1726 on a land grant from Lord Baltimore.

Along with his wife, Mr. Gatch is survived by a son, Frank Bryan Gatch III, and a daughter, Anne H. Gatch, both of Millington; two brothers, Benton of Perry Hall and John Gatch of Greenville, S.C.; three sisters, Ellen Hineche of Monkton, Leanore Pollock of Baltimore and Catherine DeGraw of Durbin, W.Va.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. Dennis Church, on Route 213 in Galena.

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