Walter Kwarta, a former restaurateur and union official, died Tuesday of complications of pancreatitis at Franklin Square Hospital Center. He was 62 and lived in Middle River.
Until he sold the business in the mid-1990s, he operated River Watch Restaurant and Marina, a 400-seat establishment overlooking Hopkins Creek in the Middleborough section of eastern Baltimore County.
He was also a longshoreman who drove a tractor on the docks of the Port of Baltimore from the 1950s through the 1970s.
In February 1974, he was elected president of the 2,500-member Local 333 of the International Longshoremen's Association. His election came at a time when two dockworkers locals - one for whites and the other for blacks - were ordered to merge by the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
In 1977, the difficulties of the union job led Mr. Kwarta to retire. He then focused his full attention on the several restaurants he owned.
"His River Watch was a great success, a place where people gathered from all over Baltimore County and up to Harford County," said former Republican U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who met Mr. Kwarta as a maritime reporter for The Sun. "As a businessman, he was well-liked. He was a soft, tender-hearted, thoughtful person."
While a longshoreman, Mr. Kwarta started John's Carry Out in the 3000 block of O'Donnell St. in Canton. He started the business to help his brother, John Kwarta, who was disabled, earn a living. John Kwarta died in the late 1980s.
The experience in the neighborhood carryout led to other ventures. In 1977, he opened the Loft, a tavern on Back River Neck Road, which he sold around 1985, when he started his first sit-down restaurant, the Kourtyard, also in Back River.
"He was a loyal friend," said Joe Stonik, a business associate and owner of Rossville Vending. "If his friends were ever in need, he was there. His family also came first."
Mr. Kwarta purchased the Seagull Inn, a nightclub that had then closed, enlarged it and renamed it River Watch. He also added a marina and pier so that patrons could watch small craft sail in and out of Hopkins Creek.
"He was definitely hands-on with anything he did at the restaurant," said his wife, the former Margaret Kirby, whom he married in 1962. "He would tear out walls and rebuild from the inside. When it was finished, he did everything but cook. What he wanted to do was make the customer feel comfortable."
Friends said Mr. Kwarta was a host for fund-raisers for political clubs and charities, including the Young Parents Support Group, an effort to help young mothers and fathers learn better child-rearing skills.
His final business venture was the Caddyshack Cafe, a Baltimore County crab house. He retired in 1997.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Canton, he was a graduate of St. Stanislaus parochial school and attended Patterson High School.
A Mass of Christian burial for Mr. Kwarta will be offered at 9 a.m. tomorrow at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church, 1704 Eastern Ave., Essex.
He also is survived by four daughters, Terri Schreiber of Rocky Point, Kathy D'Anna of Turkey Point, Sandra O'Neal of Bowleys Quarters and Patti Dresher of Bel Air; a sister, Ann Petroccaro of Baltimore; and 10 grandchildren.