George W. Constable Sr., 90, partner in law firm, served on area boards

January 29, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

George W. Constable Sr., former partner in the Baltimore law firm of Wright, Constable & Skeen and longtime board member of area educational, religious and cultural institutions, died Saturday of heart failure at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care in Towson. He was 90.

Mr. Constable, who lived for nearly 50 years at Harmony Hall, a 125-acre farm in Monkton, was born into a family of lawyers and judges who had practiced law in Maryland since the 1830s.

He began his nearly 60-year legal career with the Baltimore firm of Venable, Baetjer & Howard in 1936, after graduation from Yale University Law School.

In 1940, he joined his father's firm, Constable & Alexander, which evolved into the present firm of Wright, Constable & Skeen, from which he retired in 1992.

"He did estate planning, a fair amount of real estate law and some litigation," said a son, James W. Constable of Monkton, a partner in the firm.

"He was a brilliant lawyer and a Renaissance man," said Michael J. Abromaitis, a lawyer with the firm, who recalled sailing with him one day as the elder Mr. Constable recited "Chaucer from memory while calling out sailing instructions and wind shifts."

He was a 40-year member of the boards of the Baltimore Museum of Art, College of Notre Dame of Maryland, Good Shepherd Center and the now-closed Peale Museum. He also had served as trustee and counsel for St. Mary's Seminary and University and the Legal Aid Society.

After a 1974 fire destroyed Center Stage's North Avenue home, Mr. Constable, as the theater's counsel, successfully negotiated a move to its present North Calvert Street home for the price of a yearly ground rent. He also secured a $750,000 loan from the Ford Foundation and a $300,000 loan from what were then Baltimore's five major banks for the theater.

Peter W. Culman, former Center Stage managing director, described him as a "considerate man, a classic gentleman" who "loved invigorated conversation."

He was legal counsel and a member of the board of the Good Shepherd Center in Halethorpe, a residential treatment center for adolescent girls, from 1951 until 1994.

"He was totally committed to us and the first lay president of the board," said Sister Mary Laetitia, a former Good Shepherd administrator.

In 1994, in recognition of Mr. Constable's years of service, center officials named Good Shepherd's library for him.

Mr. Constable also handled the incorporation of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland in 1960 and remained on its board until 1992.

"He was a prince of a man who was the unique combination of the astute lawyer, country gentleman and a poet-philosopher, and these were qualities that always came through no matter what he did," said Sister Kathleen Feeley, former president of the college.

A somewhat reserved man who had a penchant for puns, Mr. Constable was born and raised in Mount Washington. The 1929 Gilman School graduate earned a bachelor's degree in history from Princeton University in 1933.

A deeply religious man, he converted to Catholicism in 1934 and remained interested in religious issues throughout his life. He also wrote several privately printed volumes on religious topics and was a member of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Texas.

He enjoyed working on his farm, particularly a pond and stream, which he landscaped with azaleas, rhododendrons, benches and stone tablets engraved with biblical inscriptions.

Mr. Constable also enjoyed spending summers at Sea Plum, a second home on Nantucket, where he sailed and raced for more than 60 years aboard his boat, the Coskata 1, and later Coskata II.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Mary's Seminary and University, 5400 Roland Ave.

He is survived by his wife of 65 years, the former Elizabeth J. Whedbee; two other sons, George W. Constable Jr. of Washington, and Robert A. Constable of New York City; four daughters, Eleanor C. Reade of Monkton; Elizabeth C. von Kessler of Glyndon; Isabelle C. Joffrion of Birmingham, Ala., and Lucinda C. Ballard of New York City; a brother, James C. Constable of Essex, Conn.; 19 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

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