Jerome "Jack" Berlin, an auto supply business owner who became a state consumer affairs advocate, died Friday of an infection at Sinai Hospital. He was 77 and lived in Pikesville.
In the mid-1950s, Mr. Berlin founded Acme Auto Supply in the garage of his brother's auto parts distributorship on Dolfield Avenue. Within 20 years, he had expanded the firm, moved it to Wabash Avenue and made it one of the city's larger auto supply houses.
"He was stubborn, opinionated, confident and forceful," said his son, Gordon Louis Berlin of Brooklyn, N.Y. "He hired ex-cons when others would not, he hired people with disabilities, he hired women in nontraditional jobs. He realized these people needed to earn a living, too."
Family members said that when the cigar-smoking Mr. Berlin was in his 50s, he was found to have lung cancer. His physicians advised him to get his affairs in order because his medical prognosis was uncertain. Thinking he did not have long to live, he sold the auto supply business and underwent an operation. He beat his cancer but found himself without a job.
"It was a turning point in his life," his son said. "He lost his identity. It was a difficult transition, but he set out to reinvent himself. He did the improbable -- he went back to school and got a paralegal degree."
As part of his personal transformation, Mr. Berlin became a volunteer consumer advocate for the office of the Maryland Attorney General. He specialized on questions of auto-repair complaint and fraud. According to his son, he liked to say that as an auto-repair fraud investigator, he had a special talent: "It took one to know one."
"Jack was a tenacious advocate for consumers during the years that he worked as a volunteer in the consumer protection division. He mediated disputes between consumers and business and he helped hundreds of Marylanders resolve their problems," said William Leibovici, chief of the consumer protection division in the office of the Maryland attorney general.
Mr. Berlin volunteered at the Office of Consumer Protection throughout the 1970s and 1980s when he helped people get refunds or redress on their auto repairs.
Born in the Baltimore County community of Texas, he was raised on Loyola Northway in Northwest Baltimore. He was a graduate of City College and the University of Maryland's continuing education program.
During World War II, Mr. Berlin served in the Merchant Marine as a medic on a cargo ship.
In the 1940s, he was a circulation district manager for the News-Post and Sunday American.
In 1950, he married the former Audrey Tver, who survives him.
Funeral services were held Sunday.
In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by a daughter, Rhonda Lee Cooper of Los Angeles, and two grandchildren.