William H. C. Wilson, 78, founder and owner of real estate business

February 03, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

William H. C. Wilson, founder and former president and owner of the venerable Roland Park real estate business W. H. C. Wilson & Co., which for generations has sold homes in Baltimore's more affluent neighborhoods, died Monday of kidney failure at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care in Towson.

He was 78 and lived in Roland Park.

Mr. Wilson, a quiet and modest man who favored conservative suits, sport coats and bow ties, was a highly regarded member of the Baltimore real estate community for more than four decades. Throughout that time, when buyers contemplated buying homes in Roland Park, Homeland or Guilford, they turned to Mr. Wilson.

His career had an inauspicious beginning.

After serving in the Army as an artilleryman in Europe during World War II, Mr. Wilson planned to settle into relative obscurity as the owner of a Roland Park filling station.

It wasn't to be. After spending a day as a civilian, he was asked by W. Burton Guy, a real estate agent, whether he wanted to sell real estate. Mr. Wilson agreed and discovered that selling appealed to him.

In 1952, he and Bernard Hoge established Hoge-Wilson Realtors downtown in the Title Building on St. Paul Street. After his partner retired in 1956, Mr. Wilson moved the business, which was renamed W. H. C. Wilson & Co., to an office in the 300 block of Wyndhurst Ave. in Roland Park.

He retired in 1985, and the business was absorbed by O'Conor, Piper & Flynn-ERA in 1998.

"We were rookies together at W. Burton Guy," James P. O'Conor, a founding partner and chairman of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn-ERA, said yesterday.

"He was an extraordinary individual who was both kind and generous, and these were virtues that he carried over into his career," said Mr. O'Conor, who is also senior vice president of OPF's parent, NRT Inc. "He epitomized what a human being should be."

In 1964, Mr. Wilson was appointed to the Housing Study Advisory Commission by Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin to study open housing and the availability of housing for blacks in the metropolitan area.

After visiting St. Louis to see firsthand the effects of open-housing legislation, he said in an interview with Real Estate News, "The Open Housing Act had worked there. I had to speak out in good conscience. We needed a city open housing law, a state law and a federal law. We couldn't have open housing voluntarily -- the country would be in terrible shape without such a law."

"It was a tough battle," said Mr. O'Conor, who also participated in the push in the mid-1960s for open-housing legislation, which became federal law by the end of the decade. "It just showed Bill's care for his fellow man, and I think he felt a deep concern for those who were deprived of equal opportunity."

Mr. Wilson was a mentor to young real estate agents who went on to successful careers elsewhere or started their own businesses.

Rene Gunning was the youngest and perhaps the least experienced member of the 10-member company when he was hired in the early 1980s.

"He liked spreading business around the office and said to me, `I've got a house for you to sell. It's my late mother-in-law's,' " said Mr. Gunning with a laugh. "What a challenge. It certainly was my baptism by fire." Mr. Gunning is still a member of the business.

"Bill was a delightful guy, a true gentleman and a wonderful competitor," said Timothy M. Rodgers, president of Hill & Co. real estate. "It's a shame there aren't more like him in the business."

Longtime friend Richard E. Gatchell of Hill & Co. said, "He was a wonderful person inside and out and was never in too much of a rush not to help you out. He was successful because he worked hard and loved Roland Park. That really was his farm."

Mr. Wilson's professional memberships included the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, of which he had been president, and the Maryland Association of Realtors. He was Baltimore Board Realtor of the Year in 1962.

Born in Howard Park, the son of a chemist, Mr. Wilson was a 1940 graduate of Polytechnic Institute. That year he enlisted in the Maryland National Guard.

His interests included spending summers at Bethany Beach, Del., and reading.

"He also collected people and loved entertaining and dinner parties," said his wife of 53 years, the former Vivienne Simon.

Mr. Wilson was a former president of the Roland Park Civic League and had served 16 years as a member of the Judicial Nominating Committee as an appointee of Gov. Harry R. Hughes and Gov. William Donald Schaefer. He was a member of the Hopkins Club.

He was a communicant, former senior warder and vestryman of St. David's Episcopal Church, 4700 Roland Ave., where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday.

He is survived by three sons, Christopher C. Wilson and Jeffrey H. Wilson, both of Cockeysville, and David S. Wilson of Cedarcroft; and nine grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to the St. David's Episcopal Church Building Fund, 4700 Roland Ave., Baltimore 21210.

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