True Chesapeake character

Way Back When

History: Frank Hennessy, who died last month, was a radio personality known for his broadcasts from the boat Chester Peake.

January 15, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

For nearly 40 years, Frank Hennessy, a raconteur and media personality, was a fixture on the Maryland scene.

With his ebullient personality and deep, refined baritone voice, Hennessy gained fame for tirelessly plugging the state as "the Land of Pleasant Living."

A colorful, stoutish figure whose cheerful face was defined by a pair of heavy-framed black glasses, Hennessy was for years the National Brewing Company's spokesman and community relations director, gaining enduring fame as the "Roving Ambassador of the Chesapeake Bay."

Hennessy, who moved from his Ruxton home in 1992 to a retirement community in Pine Bluff, Ark., died there late last month of a heart attack. He was 86.

A former WBAL Radio personality, Hennessy joined National in 1957 and worked there until 1975.

In his role as company spokesman, he delighted audiences with his colorful weekend fishing and weather reports and anecdotes, which he broadcast over WCBM Radio from the decks of the Chester Peake, a 1915-vintage Chesapeake Bay skipjack that National used for promotional purposes. (The skipjack's sail was embroidered with a large drawing of Mr. Boh, the one-eyed, mustachioed waiter that had been promoting National Bohemian beer since the 1930s.)

Dubbed "Commodore of the Chesapeake" by Gov. Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin, Hennessy was a familiar figure to Bay yachtsman as he cruised the Bay from the the C & D Canal to Smith Island, dressed in a snappy nautical cap, white duck pants and blue blazer.

"During the summer months we'll be cruising the Chesapeake Bay, attending races, regattas and other special events, hoping that Chester Peake will serve as a graceful symbol of the wonderful Land of Pleasant Living," he told The Sun.

Often in demand as a grand marshal at Baltimore-area parades, Hennessy was known for his Irish wit and quick ad-libs.

As the Baltimore Post Office Band marched into view at a Veterans Day Parade in Parkville, Hennessy announced over the public address system, "These are the boys who brave all sorts of weather to bring you your bills."

In 1958, Hennessy took his good will abroad when he was designated a special emissary of the United Irish Societies of Baltimore, composed of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and the Emerald Isle Club, which had donated 10 tons of old clothing to the citizens of Baltimore, Ireland.

Unwrapping a key sent by Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., Hennessy said, "This is a key not only to our city, but we will prove it's the key to our hearts."

Hennessy, an excellent outdoors cook who gained honors as the Male Barbecuing Champion at the national chicken grill-off in Selbyville, Del., was the creator of the Chesapeake BAYke.

"We have our wonderful crab feasts, oyster and bull roasts but there's no identifying name like New England clambake or Hawaiian luau, and my wife and I got to thinking about a Chesapeake BAYke," he told The Sun in an interview.

Firing up his gigantic Weber Big Smokey grill, Hennessy and his wife, Rita, whom he married in 1938, used such strictly local Maryland ingredients as rockfish, clams, oysters, blue crabs, corn and broiler chicken to create the feast.

Hennessy, who was born in St. Louis and reared in Memphis, always claimed one of his grilling secrets was using Arkansas swamp hickory chips.

"Soaked in water and thrown on the grill, they give food an unusual taste," he explained to The Sun.

After he left National Brewing Co., Hennessy and his wife worked as free-lance models and actors.

Sharp-eyed movie buffs can spot them in "The Seduction of Joe Tynan" and "And Justice for All," two motion pictures that were filmed in Baltimore during the late 1970s.

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