Sam Leonard Silber, retired president of Silber's Bakery, died Monday of leukemia at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 87 and lived in Roland Park.
After serving in World War II as a fighter pilot, Mr. Silber expanded a thriving family business into a 36-store chain, which closed in 1979.
The bakery's signature products -- rye bread, multicolored rainbow cakes in seven layers, peach and coffee cakes, pecan sticky buns, butter-crunch cookies and rolls -- appealed to generations of Baltimoreans.
"I loved Silber's caraway rye. It had a wonderful consistency," recalled Linda Lapides of Bolton Hill. "It was a very fond memory of childhood. I would have my parents bring Silber's rye bread to me at summer camp."
"Everything was baked fresh daily, and that was the hallmark of Silber's," said a sister, Evelyn Krohn of Baltimore.
In 1904, Mr. Silber's parents, Isaac and Dora Silber, opened a bakery at 1313 E. Lombard St., in the city's famed Corned Beef Row. Soon, stores were open in a half-dozen locations in the city.
The main bakery was at Monroe Street and Westwood Avenue for many years and later at the Colonial Village Shopping Center in Pikesville.
Mr. Silber, whose father died in 1945, joined the business in 1949 and became president in 1950.
He was born in Baltimore, graduated from City College in 1930 and, in 1934, earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Maryland, where he was a lacrosse All-American.
In 1935, he enlisted in the Navy and was a member of the first class of air cadets, earning his wings in 1936.
During World War II, he served aboard several aircraft carriers in the Pacific and was executive officer of two fighter squadrons.
He flew Hellcats and shot down seven Japanese Zeros, qualifying for membership in the American Fighter Aces Club. His decorations included four Distinguished Flying Crosses, four Air Medals and the Purple Heart.
He rose to the rank of lieutenant commander and resigned his commission in 1949.
"Sam was a big, husky guy and as gentle as he was big and husky," said a cousin, F. Leonard Sollins of Baltimore.
"He was debonair, good-looking and loved to dance," said his sister, Rosalie Silber Abrams of Cross Keys, a former Democratic state senator. "He never stayed in a hotel. He had friends wherever he went."
Mr. Silber's Roland Park residence, built on steep terrain and featuring an Oriental garden, was designed by Mark Beck and won an award from the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
In a 1981 Evening Sun interview, Mr. Silber said that he found "great serenity and peace" in the garden.
He also was an avid collector of Jimmy Hatlo's "They'll Do It Every Time" cartoons and letters.
Mr. Silber was a charter member and former chairman of the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame and a member of the Lacrosse Foundation. He had been president of the University of Maryland's "M" Club and in May will be inducted into UM's Athletic Hall of Fame.
He played squash and was a member of the Maryland Club and the Jesters Club.
His marriage to Georgianna Powers ended in divorce.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Sol Levinson & Bros. Inc., 8900 Reisterstown Road.
He was predeceased by a brother, Meyer Silber, and a sister, Libbye Sneider.
He also is survived by three brothers, Dr. Bernard Silber of Atherton, Calif., Sidney Silber of Baltimore and Dr. Earle Silber of Chevy Chase.