Henry Knott Sr. dies philanthropist was 89

Construction tycoon gave fortunes to hospitals, schools

November 27, 1995|By Marcia Myers and David Folkenflik | Marcia Myers and David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF Albert Sehlstedt Jr. contributed to this article.

Henry J. Knott Sr.: An obituary yesterday misnamed the place of burial, New Cathedral Cemetery, 4300 Old Frederick Road, Baltimore.

Henry J. Knott Sr., the hard-driving multimillionaire developer renowned for his prodigious philanthropy, died yesterday at Johns Hopkins Hospital after a brief illness. He was 89.

Mr. Knott, who had entered the hospital recently for surgery, later contracted pneumonia, which was listed as the cause of death.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

He started work as a bricklayer with his father's construction company in the 1920s but rose through business as a brick contractor and made his fortune developing real estate. Much of that fortune he gave to Maryland colleges, schools and hospitals, with gifts that particularly linked his name to Loyola College, Hopkins Hospital and the state's Roman Catholic schools.

Those who knew Mr. Knott attributed his success to his lifelong industriousness.

"His interest was work. He was a workaholic," said Joseph M. Knott, Mr. Knott's youngest brother and godson. Hobbies held less attraction, Joseph Knott said. "He wasn't interested in golf. He never belonged to any of the country clubs. He said he couldn't afford it."

There were few things Henry Knott could not afford during his adult life. His personal wealth, estimated at $150 million in 1987, included major holdings in the Arundel Corp. (before its sale the following year to Florida Rock Industries for $88 million), Henry A. Knott Homebuilders and Knott Enterprises.

Knott's companies built thousands of homes and businesses in Baltimore, including apartment buildings, rowhouses and shopping centers that dot the metropolitan area from Essex to Lansdowne and from Kingsville to Catonsville.

The reach of his family was almost as wide as that of his businesses. Mr. Knott and his wife of 67 years, Marion Burk Knott, raised 12 children. At his death, Mr. Knott left 51 grandchildren and 55 great-grandchildren.

"He had three very intense interests: his family, the Catholic Church and his work," said Rick O. Berndt, a lawyer for the Archdiocese of Baltimore who knew Mr. Knott for almost 30 years.

Cardinal William H. Keeler was visiting with the Knott family last night.

Through a spokesman, he said, "We mourn the passing of Henry Knott, whose deep faith and extraordinary charity will long be remembered. I pray that God may comfort his dear wife, Marion, and all his family. Catholic education in Maryland at every level has benefited from the vision and generosity of Henry Knott."

Mr. Knott gave millions to charity, primarily Catholic educational institutions such as Loyola College, his alma mater; the College ZTC of Notre Dame of Maryland; Mount St. Mary's College, Emmitsburg; and the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind. By 1988, the Knotts' charitable contributions had exceeded $140 million.

"He was highly disciplined and unbelievably focused about whatever he was doing. You could not distract him," said Mr. Berndt, who was a 26-year-old fledgling attorney when he met Mr. Knott.

"I was very idealistic and had many thoughts about how the world should work," Mr. Berndt recalled. "Mr. Knott was one of the ones who regularly brought me down to earth. He was great at the art of what was possible."

In 1988, Mr. Knott and his wife created a $26 million fund to benefit 31 local educational, health and cultural institutions.

Among the recipients were the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, which received $5 million, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which was given $1 million. Four Baltimore hospitals, St. Joseph, Mercy, St. Agnes and Bon Secours, each received $1 million to establish an income fund to provide medical care for the poor.

Schaefer's sorrow

"I talked to Mr. Knott's son the other day. He told me that Mr. Knott would not get out of this one," former Gov. William Donald Schaefer said. "I had a real, great sorrow overcome me. Mr. Knott was truly one of the great men of our times, perhaps of all times. He was one of the great pillars of Baltimore."

Mr. Knott's largess seemed at odds with his public persona as a gruff, demanding businessman. Yet associates insisted that he was, in private, the antithesis of that image.

Peter G. Angelos, Orioles owner and former city councilman, knew Mr. Knott for more than 25 years and took issue with what he characterized as a public impression of Mr. Knott as "a hard-nosed businessman bent on accumulating most of the money in Maryland."

Rather, Mr. Angelos said, he came to know Mr. Knott as "the very gentle person he really is," and as an individual who, in private conversation, was fond of discussing broad intellectual subjects, often quoting Plato or Aristotle to make his point.

"He's made a lot of money because he drives a hard bargain, but an honest bargain," Mr. Angelos said.

Mr. Knott was among the first to sign on when Mr. Angelos pulled together local investors to buy the Baltimore Orioles in 1993.

"He expects a lot from most people, but he expects the most from himself," said Mr. Angelos.

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