Vachel Paul Dorsey, 87, reporter, photographer, investor in real estate

September 30, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Vachel Paul Dorsey, a retired journalist and commercial photographer, died Monday of heart failure at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 87 and lived in Towson.

A reporter for The Evening Sun from 1929 to 1946, Mr. Dorsey later had careers as a photographer and real estate investor before he retired at 82 because of poor health.

When he was 17, he joined The Evening Sun in an era when Baltimore had three afternoon newspapers. He covered the exploits of Jack Hart, the celebrated criminal and escape artist, and the 1939 Torso Murder case in which an East Baltimore woman was killed by a steelworker who cut up her body and dumped it in sewers and vacant lots.

In 1946, he opened the Paul Dorsey Studio, a commercial photography business on Maryland Avenue. He received commissions to photograph the construction of what was then Friendship Airport (now Baltimore-Washington International Airport) in the 1940s and Western Maryland Railway's locomotives and equipment. He was also the University of Baltimore's yearbook photographer.

His last career, which he began in the 1960s and in which he was joined by his wife, was as a real estate investor. Using his knowledge of the city from his childhood and newspaper days, he acquired an inventory of rental properties in many neighborhoods. He made a practice of visiting his tenants, listening to their stories and telling a few of his own.

"He loved to tell jokes and stories," said his wife, Gertrude K. Dorsey. "He'd get the story started, but he'd usually forget the punch line."

"He had the gift of being at ease with everyone. Paul was always a lot of fun with a jovial, lively spirit and a smile. He had no inhibitions," Mrs. Dorsey said.

Born in Baltimore, Mr. Dorsey grew up in the 1400 block of Bolton St. in a three-story rowhouse, where his family had lived for more than 75 years.

He was educated at Corpus Christi parochial school and City College.

In 1936, he married Margaret Cawood, and they were divorced in 1946. His second wife, the former Catherine Kitchen, with whom he had a daughter, died in 1958. The next year, he married her sister, the former Gertrude Kitchen, who lives in Towson.

During World War II, Mr. Dorsey served in the merchant marine as a firefighter and made five convoy trips to Murmansk, a Russian port, during which he saw cargo ships torpedoed and sunk in the North Sea.

He was an officer of the John Eager Howard chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution and a member of the Society of the War of 1812, the St. George's Society, the Maryland Historical Society and the English Speaking Union.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, 200 Ware Ave., Towson, where he was an active member.

He is also survived by two daughters, Margaret Dorsey Freeman of Richmond, Va., and Corinne Dorsey Onnen of Lutherville; a brother, Thomas Lee Dorsey, and two sisters, Virginia Dorsey Peach and Margaret Dorsey Kaltenbach, all of Baltimore; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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