Jacques T. Schlenger, 72, dies

helped save Peabody

Influential lawyer prized philanthropy

May 19, 2000|By Frederick Rasmussen | Frederick Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Jacques T. Schlenger, an influential Baltimore lawyer, philanthropist and bibliophile who led the rescue effort that saved the venerable Peabody Institute, died Wednesday evening at Stella Maris Hospice after a stroke, family members said. He was 72.

Mr. Schlenger, a man of medium build and soft voice, favored conservatively cut, pin-striped Savile Row suits, custom-made shirts, rimless glasses, the novels of Anthony Trollope and carefully stirred Bombay martinis.

Above all else, he was known for his love and mastery of the law, which he practiced at Venable, Baetjer and Howard, the prominent Baltimore law firm he joined as a partner in 1963 and retired from at the end of last year.

A liberal on social issues and a conservative in business matters, Mr. Schlenger was an expert in business, trust and tax law. He managed the firm's tax department until 1979, when he succeeded H. Vernon Eney, an adviser to governors, mayors and legislators, as managing partner.

During his seven-year term, the firm expanded from 82 lawyers to 160 and established offices in Washington, Northern Virginia, Towson and Rockville.

"He helped prepare the firm for the 21st century," Benjamin R. Civiletti, the firm's managing partner, said yesterday.

"He supported diversity and pioneered in the hiring of African-American and women lawyers. If they had small children, they could work part time. He was an advocate of flex time for staff and lawyers so they could tend to family matters," Civiletti said.

He pointed to Mr. Schlenger's creation of the Venable, Baetjer and Howard Foundation in 1982 -- which directs more than $600,000 a year to charitable institutions in Baltimore and Washington -- as a significant accomplishment.

"The foundation also got our lawyers interested in various charitable pursuits. During its 18-year existence, the foundation has added $8 million to charitable purposes in both communities. Even today, not many firms have such a foundation," Civiletti said.

In a highly visible legal career, Mr. Schlenger was known for his ability to create forms of transactions. As personal counsel to Carroll Rosenbloom, owner of the Baltimore Colts, he arranged the tax-free exchange of the team for the Los Angeles Rams in 1972, which placed ownership of the Colts in the hands of Robert Irsay.

In 1974, after Center Stage, then on North Avenue, was destroyed by fire, Mr. Schlenger and Sewell Watts helped the theater with a matching grant from the Ford Foundation.

He was especially devoted to the Peabody Institute, the Mount Vernon Place landmark that was founded in 1857 and a pre-eminent music school. By the late 1970s, it was having financial trouble.

As chairman of the Peabody Advisory Council and as trustee of the Johns Hopkins University, Mr. Schlenger sought a permanent solution to the school's chronic deficits.

"Jack was devoted to Peabody, which was bleeding profusely. Hopkins gave it significant transfusions, yet it continued to be a substantial drag," said Mr. Civiletti.

"He worked tirelessly to raise funds and convinced the state legislators to save Peabody," he said.

In 1990, the General Assemblyl unanimous passed legislation that provided $15 million to the Peabody endowment on the condition that the school raise a matching $15 million in five months from the private sector.

Mr. Schlenger and Lt. Gov. Melvin A. "Mickey" Steinberg toured Maryland from end to end, convincing business leaders of the necessity of saving Peabody.

"He was the key player," Steinberg recalled.

When Mr. Schlenger retired from the Advisory Council of the Peabody Institute in 1996, Robert Pierce, then the Peabody director, gave him a mirror with Peabody's name engraved on the top.

"When Bob presented him with the mirror, he said, `Jack, when you look into this mirror you will see the face of the man who saved Peabody.' He was so touched that he almost broke down," said Anne Garside, director of information at Peabody.

Born and raised in East Balti- more, Mr. Schlenger was the son of a physician. He was a 1944 graduate of City College, where he had boxed, and earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia in 1948.

He earned his law degree from Yale University Law School in 1951 and from 1952 to 1955 was a special attorney in office of the chief counsel for the Internal Revenue Service in Washington.

He was in private practice as a tax specialist from 1955 until 1963, when he joined Venable, Baetjer and Howard.

"He always thought the IRS was the greatest enemy in the world," his wife, the former Suzanne Johnson, said with a laugh. They married 48 years ago after meeting on a trans-Atlantic crossing in 1950.

He was described by colleagues as "pugnacious and determined." When he was diagnosed with cancer of the leg when he was 33, Mr. Schlenger underwent amputation and radiation treatments and returned to work full time within two weeks.

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