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Power Play Look homeward: David Cordish relishes the challenge of a project in his own city.

February 04, 1996|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Mr. Cordish holds many honors. But none is are more impressive than being the first man to shower in the woman's dorm at Goucher College. True or false, it's one of Penny Cordish's most playful stories.

In 1960, she was a student at Goucher and was dating a lacrosse player named Dave Cordish. After practice, she'd smuggle the young sweaty man into her dorm so he could shower. Her friends would stand watch at the door.

"He was a great deal of fun as a young man," says Mrs. Cordish, now an English professor at Goucher.

They married, raised three boys, traveled hard and well, and furiously fed two careers. While she worked weekends on her doctorate, her husband worked at home. "He always said he thought he was the best mom on the block." When he went to the office, David would bring along his boys.

Although the couple divorced in 1987, "We're very much a family," says Mrs. Cordish, who also was in Buenos Aires with her family. It was Cordish tennis, after all.

No telling how much time and money Mr. Cordish has spent on his sons' tennis -- from prime court time, to top coaches, to bringing in top players to hit with his boys. When a Cordish son was playing tennis, his father was either in the stands or standing behind the baseline giving instructions.

Reed Cordish, a senior at Princeton, is a nationally ranked player whose game is no stranger to The Sun's sports page. His father has been known to ask his secretary to call the paper to suggest stories about his son. But that's only natural.

Here's the thing about David, Mrs. Cordish says. "He is a great caretaker. He wants to keep the world safe, to keep us all safe. You know, the catcher in the rye."

Some people, she says, react to tragedy by retreating; others find a higher gear. David did when he was 12. His mother, Ethel Cordish, was dying of a brain tumor. While their father tried cases, his sons -- Michael, Joel and David -- were home with a housekeeper, taking care of the paralyzed Mrs. Cordish -- remembered by neighbors as a vivid blonde with a Southern accent. She died after a long, awful time at home. Her oldest son became his brothers' keepers.

"His reaction, without being coached, was to take charge of his brothers. He was a boss man and a pretty enlightened leader," says David's father. "He was also a mother substitute for them."

Well, that's a proud father talking. His son says he was simply a big brother, doing what other big brothers would do. David doesn't want this part of his life over-played. It's not like he had to quit school or sports to get a job to help out at home, he points out. "I had a very fortunate upbringing. A lot of kids have to face a lot worse."

Well, that's a humble son talking. His father says the tragedy helped develop David into the self-reliant, responsible leader he is. The boy "relieved me of a great deal of responsibility." He knew his other sons were safe with David.

Michael and Joel were also fine college athletes and students. Joel was an excellent lacrosse player at Hopkins, andwho went on to the University of Michigan for his Ph.D. Leaving a school library late one night in 1967, "He was attacked by four AWOL soldiers who deserted an Army camp in Alabama. They beat on him. He started to run," Paul Cordish says. Fifteen feet later, a bullet tunneled through the back of Joel's neck. "He laid there, and they laughed at him. He's been paralyzed ever since."

"It was one of the only times I've ever seen David cry -- the night he got that phone call," Penny Cordish remembers.

Before the attack, Joel was developing a deep interest in Judaism. (His grandfather co-founded a synagogue in Baltimore.) Joel became an Orthodox Jew and moved to Israel. His father arranged for him to have an apartment fitted with the latest equipment to help quadriplegics. "It's an acceptable way of life he never would have had here," his father says.

Influenced by Joel, Michael also became an Orthodox Jew and moved to Israel. Orthodox Jews strictly adhere to dietary laws, ritual forms and holy days. Television, newspapers and movies are foreign to his brothers, David says. And the development of Baltimore's Inner Harbor is probably the last thing they contemplate.

"Their lives couldn't be any more removed from mine," David says.

The Cordish brothers stay in touch, and David certainly respects their spiritual way of life. But for himself, and with all due respect to religious ritual, "You have to be much more active in this world and do good deeds but on a practical basis."

David Cordish wants to do something active and practical for Baltimore by making Metropolis work.

"I've been thinking a lot about this lately," the developer says. "Why do I keep working? The money is not an issue.

"It's the winning and losing."

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