W. Riley Whorton Sr., 81, wholesaler of seafood

May 13, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

W. Riley Whorton Sr., a retired seafood wholesaler, died Wednesday of emphysema at his White Marsh home. He was 81 and had earlier lived in the Dunloggin section of Howard County.

Until he retired in the late 1980s, he was one of Baltimore's largest wholesalers and sold fish, jumbo lump crab meat, lobster and shrimp to the city's best-known restaurants -- Tio Pepe, Marconi's and the now-closed Danny's.

"They were quality people and ran a quality business," said Stephen George, who with his wife ran Haussner's, the Highlandtown restaurant that closed in 1999.

Six days a week, family members said, Mr. Whorton left home at 3 a.m. and returned about the same hour in the afternoon.

"It was his life and he loved it," said daughter-in-law Barbara Young Whorton. "He spent the whole day in a wooden sales cubicle, smoking cigarettes, calling on the restaurants and taking their orders. At noon, he walked up a catwalk to a roomy office, sat at a partner's desk, ate lunch and computed receipts.

"He changed out of his fish-selling clothes -- long underwear, rubberized boots, heavy work clothes and a frayed, quilted jacket -- and changed into a flannel shirt and khakis. He never wore a suit."

For many years, he operated from the old Wholesale Fish Market on Market Place in downtown Baltimore. Today the renovated building houses the Port Discovery children's museum.

"He was very reluctant to leave the old ambiance of the city," his daughter-in-law said. "It was a frigid day in February 1984 when we moved to Jessup and the new fish market. The only mandate he gave was that all the phones be open so he not lose one day of contact with his clients.

"He was meticulous to the penny. When he took seafood home to his family, he accounted for it."

Born in Whortonsville, N.C., he grew up in his family's grocery store and farm, both of which failed during the Depression.

Before moving to Baltimore in the 1930s, he had a number of jobs, including driving a truck, running a gas station, selling subscriptions to Collier's magazine and working part time as a radio disc jockey. He then joined his brother, W. Preston Whorton, who died in 1981, in the seafood business.

His wife of 22 years, Alma Beynon, died five months ago.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. May 20 at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.

He is also survived by a son, W. Riley Whorton Jr. of Ellicott City; a daughter, Kim Whorton of Laurel; a stepson, William Isaac of Easton; a stepdaughter, Barbara Lee Spitznas of Delran, N.J.; four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

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