Paul A. Piper, man of many interests

August 25, 1994|By DeWitt Bliss | DeWitt Bliss,Sun Staff Writer

Paul A. Piper, a retired engineer who had been active in church work and social justice causes, died Tuesday of a circulatory illness at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Towson resident was 88.

Mr. Piper was a man of broad interests and commitments. At age 12, he built a crystal radio set, the first radio receiver in his rural Michigan town. He became a carpenter's apprentice and learned to build houses. An engineer for the Glenn L. Martin Co., in retirement he earned a master's degree, took up painting and fashioned a second career as an instructor at the Chimes School for the developmentally disabled.

In between, he invented and patented a device to weigh flying boats, traveled widely and was a Boy Scout leader and Sunday school teacher.

His three principal passions were his family, airplanes and social justice.

Mr. Piper was married for 61 years to the former Pauline Gibson, who survives him at the family home in the Wiltondale area of Towson. They moved to Baltimore in 1936, when Mr. Piper went to work for the Glenn L. Martin Co., now Martin Marietta Corp. His specialty was weight control. Later, he was a project engineer and director of engineering standardization.

After retirement in 1968, he and his wife enrolled in a liberal arts program at the Johns Hopkins University, earning master's degrees in the history of ideas.

At the same time, he began taking art courses at Towson State University and filled his home with sketches and paintings. He developed an interest in genealogy and wrote booklets of family history. And he called on his carpenter's training to teach woodworking in the workshop of the School of the Chimes. Some of his students were deaf, so he learned sign language to communicate with them.

Mr. Piper was born in Chicago on the Fourth of July, 1906, when aviation was in its infancy. He built model gliders and planes and watched the traveling aerial circuses of the barnstormers and wing walkers. After graduating in 1928 from Michigan State College, where he studied electrical engineering, he learned to fly in the Army Air Corps. In 1945, he earned a private pilot's license, bought an Ercoupe with some friends and became a weekend flier.

For more than 50 years, he was a member of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church. When the church split into downtown and suburban congregations at Park Avenue and Woodbrook, he and his wife remained active in both, splitting their memberships so that one technically belonged to each church. As an elder, he was for many years chairman of Brown Memorial's Church and ZTC Society Committee, which worked for racial integration in the segregated Baltimore of the 1950s and '60s.

A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow in the Speers Chapel at Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church, 6200 N. Charles St.

Mr. Piper is also survived by a sister, Nina Knight of Laguna Beach, Calif.; three children, Harold Piper of Glenarm, Margaret O'Connor of Williamstown, Mass., and Lawrence Piper of Reading, Mass.; and seven grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to the T. Guthrie Speers Fund for Social Justice, Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, 1316 Park Ave., Baltimore 21217.

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