John H. Mears Jr., 87, businessman, developer of marina in Annapolis

October 17, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | By Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

John H. Mears Jr., a retired businessman and developer of Mears Marina in Annapolis, died Oct. 10 of a heart attack at Anne Arundel Medical Center. He was 87.

Mr. Mears' entrepreneurial spirit began as a youngster in Garden City, N.Y., and during summers at his family's home in Port Jefferson, Long Island.

Born in Washington, he later moved to Garden City, into a home across the street from a golf course. He learned to play the game there, and by the 1930s was working as assistant pro at the Congressional Country Club in Washington and at the Bald Peak Colony Club in New Hampshire.

"He never finished high school, and went on the professional golf circuit against the wishes of his parents," said a daughter, Susan Whiteford of Sherwood Forest.

"He got a lot of tips and advice from the people he gave lessons to," said his lawyer and longtime friend, Walter R. Stone of Baltimore.

His lifelong love of the water also brought him into the company of successful businessmen.

"He stoked neighbors' furnaces and sold magazines in order to raise money to buy his first boat, which was a leaky rowboat. He was 8 years old at the time," said Ms. Whiteford.

He later developed a business during the 1920s delivering groceries and goods to the yachts of Wall Street magnates anchored off Port Jefferson during the summer.

"In 1938, Mr. Mears established Brookwood Farm Dairy, a Catonsville dairy store that sold milk, eggs, ice cream and chicken. With the coming of World War II, he sold the business because he was unable to purchase new delivery trucks.

Unable to serve in the military because of a hip problem, he went to work as a shipfitter in the Key Highway yards of Bethlehem Steel Corp.

Mr. Mears became friendly with John M. Willis, general manager of Bethlehem's Baltimore shipbuilding and repair operations. Over a game of golf, he told Mr. Willis that he could secure at a cheaper cost the timber and plywood used in shipbuilding. He spent the remainder of the war traveling throughout the nation purchasing trainloads of wood for the shipyard.

After the war, Mr. Mears established the Mears Plywood Co. and Monumental Millwork, both in Baltimore.

In 1951, he sold the businesses and founded the Mears Aluminum Corp., manufacturing a patented window of his own design that featured an aluminum weather strip and sash.

It was known as the Cushion Glide, and by the time he sold the business to Reynolds Metals in 1964, one-third of the windows in the United States were of this type.

Windows were hung with a channel of aluminum in which the sash slid up and down with an adjustable spring.

"This revolutionized the window industry," Mr. Mears recently told Ms. Whiteford, who is compiling a family memoir.

In the late 1960s, he bought Segekin Marina in Annapolis where he had his boat moored. He eventually purchased Eastport Marina, the adjoining property, which he used to create Mears Marina. He sold the business in 1976.

Mears Marina was a departure from the usual creaky waterfront dock with gas pumps. Instead, he created a 300-slip marina that had a clubhouse, tennis courts and swimming pool.

Mr. Mears was proud of being a direct descendant of William Claiborne, who established Maryland's first permanent settlement on Kent Island in 1631.

He lived in Annapolis during the summer, and in the fall would sail aboard his 78-foot Hatteras motor yacht, Mear Mar VI, through the Intercoastal Waterway to Jupiter, Fla., where he spent winters.

Every day while in Annapolis, he moved about the harbor in his tender, visiting and talking to friends and ship captains.

"He had been out in the tender the day he died," said Ms. Whiteford. "He said he loved going out in that boat every day because `that's where I do my thinking.'"

His marriage to Betty Keeler ended in divorce.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Mears Marina, 519 Chester Ave., Annapolis.

He is survived by his wife of 23 years, the former Dottie Speer Dove; a son, John Mears III of Bridgewater, Vt.; two other daughters, Sandra Forbush of Flint Hill, Va., and Nancy Mears of Towson; a sister, Ann Waitz of Cutchogue, N.Y.; two stepsons, Mason Dove of Birmingham, Ala., and Barry Dove of Baltimore; 10 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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