D. Chester O'Sullivan, 92, chairman of Maryland State Athletic Commission

February 12, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

D. Chester O'Sullivan never forgot the death of Ernie Knox, a young Baltimore fighter who died of a brain hemorrhage 32 hours after he was knocked out in a 1963 fight at the old Coliseum on Monroe Street.

It spurred Mr. O'Sullivan, then the chairman of the Maryland State Athletic Commission, which regulated boxing, to commit himself to making the sport safer. Over more than three decades, he instituted tough measures that accomplished his goal.

Mr. O'Sullivan died Saturday of a heart attack at St. Martin's Home for the Aged in Catonsville. He was 92.

"His approach was shaped by that event and it was a defining moment," Dennis Gring, former executive director of the State Athletic Commission, said yesterday. "Thereafter, he became dedicated to the safety and health of people who box, and because of his efforts, Maryland has some of the strictest measures in the country."

Because of Mr. O'Sullivan, any boxer who fights in Maryland must first have a physical examination form filled out by his physician; and must pass physicals five days before the fight, at the weigh-in on the day of contest and after the bout. He also is credited with establishing the requirements that an ambulance and physician be available at boxing matches and that identification cards be carried by all professional boxers.

Before he retired in June because of failing health, he made sure that annual testing for the AIDS virus and Hepatitis B was mandatory for all professional fighters and kick-boxers licensed by the state. Maryland became the ninth state to adopt the measure.

The measures instituted under Mr. O'Sullivan's regime were incorporated into the Professional Boxers Safety Act, which was passed by Congress last year and will become law in July.

"He used to always say, 'You're only one punch away from something devastating and because of the examinations, you minimize the potential for something going wrong,' " Mr. Gring said.

A diminutive man known for his energy and stubbornness, Mr. O'Sullivan confessed little knowledge about the sport when appointed to his post by Gov. J. Millard Tawes in 1959. He once said the "only thing I ever boxed was oranges."

An early riser, he caught the bus on University Parkway across from Broadview Apartments, where he lived for many years, to his 14th-floor office in the Standard Oil Building downtown, arriving customarily at 6 a.m. He worked six days a week in his office where the walls were crowded with boxing memorabilia.

During the 1960s, when the late sportswriter Jimmy Cannon characterized boxing as "the most barbaric game men work at in this country," President Lyndon B. Johnson met Mr. O'Sullivan and asked him if he would be interested in becoming boxing's national chairman.

Always direct and to the point, he told the president, "Boxing has been crooked for 2,000 years. Do yourself a favor and forget the whole idea. If you create a national body to govern boxing, two years from now the sport will still be as crooked as ever."

If he wasn't handling state business, Mr. O'Sullivan could be found volunteering with Catholic Youth Organizations, ushering SS. Philip and James Roman Catholic Church on Charles Street, or selling Claxton fruit cakes for the Civitan Club.

His skill at selling fruitcakes was legend, and no caller left his office without one or two.

"There are freezers all over Baltimore still loaded with his fruitcakes," said his son-in-law, Michael Maskell of Montville, N.J.

Mr. O'Sullivan was a member of the Baltimore chapter of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, of which he was a founding member in 1955. The group is known for its charity, especially its support of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

"We are supposed to have the biggest hearts of any Irish society, to have love in our hearts at all times. We are supposed to help people any way we can," he told The Evening Sun in 1993.

Born in Baltimore and raised in the Hamilton section of Northeast Baltimore, Mr. O'Sullivan was a 1923 graduate of Loyola High School. He worked as a stockbroker for Herbert W. Schaefer & Co. and retired in 1970.

In 1936, he married Loretta McGrain and the couple lived for many years on East 25th Street until they moved to Homewood. She died in 1972.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11: 30 a.m. tomorrow at SS. Philip and James church, 2801 N. Charles St.

He is survived by a daughter, Patricia Ann Maskell of Montville, N.J.; four grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

Pub Date: 2/12/97

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