John Michael Lehane, 57, lawyer, sailor, veteran

September 13, 1999|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,SUN STAFF

John Michael Lehane, a sailor, lawyer and proper Irishman who flew combat missions over Vietnam as a young Marine Corps pilot, was buried Saturday after dying of heart failure at the helm of his boat, Jay Bird, on the Chesapeake Bay. The Roland Park resident was 57.

A lifelong Baltimorean, Mr. Lehane attended local Roman Catholic schools and George Washington University before joining the Marines and shipping out for Southeast Asia in 1966. Twice shot down, he suffered major injuries when he ejected from an F-4 Phantom in 1967 and received the Purple Heart.

Years later, a friend regaling Mr. Lehane with accounts of his sky-diving hobby was met with an arched eyebrow and a wry smile.

"Why," Mr. Lehane asked, "would anyone jump out of perfectly good airplane?"

"That was Mike," said Jane Allan Bowie, a longtime friend. "He had a wicked sense of humor, with a modicum of words. He was great with a punch line, and a fine storyteller in the Irish tradition.

"If you told him a good one, he'd say: `Ah, very nice, I'll be able to dine out on that one.' "

Released from a military hospital after his Marine Corps discharge, he returned to his hometown and attended the University of Baltimore Law School, graduating in 1968.

With a specialty in admiralty law, he went into private practice and dabbled in politics, winning seats on the board of the Mount Royal Democratic Club and the Democratic State Central Committee in 1974.

Three years later, he was appointed a hearing commissioner at the Baltimore City Jail, a post he held until the state took over the jail in 1994.

Twice divorced, Mr. Lehane attracted a varied group of friends, who remembered him as well-mannered, gracious and fastidious, even when wearing a pair of paint-spattered boat shoes.

"He was an exacting captain -- very precise and organized," recalled Bowie, who spent time aboard Mr. Lehane's racer Bodacious. "He was a regular at the Wednesday Night Series races in Annapolis, and other captains who weren't quite as orderly would leave him fuming, but always in a gentlemanly way."

Mr. Lehane's other passions included history, volumes of which lined the shelves of his home; the writings of Mark Twain; the weekly Latin Mass at St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church; and an abiding commitment to his Irish heritage.

"He was always told by his parents, mostly his dad, that you must give back to your country," said Jill Heptinstall, a friend. "You must never forget those who came before you."

To that end, he was a lifelong member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, serving as Maryland chapter president from 1991 to 1997 and as pro bono counsel to the national organization. He also sang Irish folk songs in a natural tenor voice and was an above-average harmonica player.

Mr. Lehane's body was recovered from his boat in early July. Because authorities had difficulty contacting family members, services were delayed.

An only child reared in Catonsville, Mr. Lehane is survived by an aunt, two nieces, a nephew and numerous cousins.

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