Lewis J. Ort, 83, baker, hospital philanthropist

September 29, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Lewis J. Ort, a baker turned philanthropist who endowed hospitals with the fortune he made by inventing a low-calorie white bread recipe, died Monday of complications from a stroke at his home in LaVale, a Cumberland suburb. He was 83.

Mr. Ort, an entrepreneur who began his career in a family-owned bakery, anticipated a demand for diet products in the 1940s. He first sold a thinly sliced bread called Lite Diet, then devised a way of using fiber from soybean hulls to bake what was hailed as this country's first diet white bread.

His process reduced the caloric content of a slice of bread by one-third. With his brother, Harry Ort, he marketed the bread's recipe nationally under the name Less. He also owned Karib Inc., a company that blended vitamins into a mix that was sold to bakeries in Central and South America for use in enriched-flour bread. He won baking industry awards for his designs for baking pans.

He was frequently referred to as Mr. Western Maryland for his humanitarian service, which included raising millions of dollars for hospitals, burn centers, churches and orphanages. He led a building drive for Frostburg State University's library, named in his honor.

Mr. Ort was a major donor to Johns Hopkins Hospital's Wilmer Eye Institute, where he and other family members endowed the Lewis J. Ort Chair of Ophthalmology.

"He was robust, enthusiastic, positive, happy and vigorous -- a larger-than-life figure, a huge man with a huge commitment to philanthropy," said Dr. Morton Goldberg, director of the Wilmer. "He was stunningly generous here at the Wilmer -- and throughout the world. He supported any religious group he could think of without any restrictions. He was a great example of American generosity with no quid pro quo. And he was a great companion and always fun to be around."

Asked which philanthropies he supported, daughter Karen Sullivan of Cumberland replied, "Anybody who asked."

Mr. Ort's charities included an electricity generating plant in Ludiana, India, the Margaret Ort General Hospital in Thailand, a nurses' home in Miraj, India, a church in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, and a burn center in the Dominican Republic. He was instrumental in building a new Sacred Heart Hospital on Haystack Mountain in Cumberland.

A Presbyterian, he was given the St. Elizabeth Bailey Seton Award by the Roman Catholic Daughters of Charity. He also helped build a Jewish synagogue.

Born in the Allegany County community of Midland, he attended Allegany High School in Cumberland. During World War II, he was a master sergeant in the Pacific.

Active in Republican politics, he also was a Mason who was a past potentate of the Ali Ghan Shrine Temple in Cumberland. He held numerous other Masonic offices, including board membership of the Shriner Hospital for Crippled Children in Philadelphia.

In 1924, he wed Pearl Fleetwood. She died in 1983.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Oct. 6 at the First Presbyterian Church, 11 Washington St., Cumberland.

He is survived by three other daughters, Marlee Ort of Hyndman, Pa., Cherie Ort of Grantsville and Kim Alkire of Marco Island, Fla.; and six grandchildren.

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