Warren S. Park Jr., 77, MPT program director, Fells Point activist

September 11, 2002|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Warren S. Park Jr., a former Maryland Public Television executive and Fells Point neighborhood activist, died of pneumonia Saturday at a nursing home in Rochester, N.H. He was 77 and a former resident of Fleet Street.

As the first director of programming and operations at MPT, formerly the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting, he developed some of its most popular shows, including Wall Street Week, The Critics' Place and Consumer Survival Kit, and selected Sesame Street and the Upstairs, Downstairs series on Masterpiece Theater for local viewing.

A native of Columbus, Ohio, Mr. Park earned a degree from Ohio State University and earned a master's in education from the University of New Hampshire. During World War II, he served in the Navy and attained the rank of lieutenant.

After working at television stations in Columbus, Manchester, N.H., and Boston, he was recruited in 1966 as MPT's director of programming, a post he held for the next 20 years. He also supervised a 100-member team that produced local and national shows.

"He designed a superb programming, production and operations team," said Frederick Breitenfeld, MPT's first employee and chief executive officer. "Warren brought a real sense of organization, discipline and purpose. He was, at heart, an educator. He taught not only his audiences but also his staff."

Mr. Park was lauded for his programming direction.

"He had good taste, and he made good decisions. As one of the first people hired, he was in on the design of the station," said Michael Styer, a former MPT vice president. "He set the tone and professional standards for producing local programs -- such as Maryland Weekend, The Critics' Place, Our Street and Hodgepodge Lodge. He was the right guy for the moment. He really deserves a lot of credit for the success of Maryland Public Television."

Mr. Park had a firm sense of public television's mission that guided the station, his colleagues said.

"The Maryland Center burst forth full strength as a state service," said Vince Clews, a scriptwriter and former MPT producer. "Warren had a rule: You were to develop programs for the people who were paying our bills -- the Maryland taxpayers. His first rule: `How does this serve the Maryland audience?'"

"One of his programs, Our Street, focused on the black family and the black community more than 30 years ago," said Robert A. Jones, retired MPT graphic arts manager. "It dealt in issues of housing, medical care and social benefits. It was early for its time."

Mr. Park's leadership, said Gloria MacPhee, MPT foundation supervisor, was characterized by a steady demeanor.

"You could set a watch by him. He was methodical," MacPhee said. "He thought things through completely. He never made any rash decisions. I never saw him lose his temper or get angry. He was a man of integrity."

Mr. Park, who was interested in local history, became fascinated by Fells Point. He became the 28th owner of a dilapidated Fleet Street home built in 1782 by British-born land owner Archibald Moncrieff. Mr. Park did much of its restoration during the 1970s.

He was among the Southeast Baltimore residents who fought the planned construction of an interstate highway along the waterfront -- a battle they won.

"He was an avid road fighter," said Robert L. Eney, a former Fells Point Preservation Society official. "He was involved in every phase of the dispute -- of getting Fells Point on the National Register and ultimately saving the neighborhood."

In 1986, he moved to Portsmouth, N.H., where he also restored a home and worked in educational television at the University of New Hampshire.

No funeral is planned.

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, the former Dalla Cressor; a daughter, Kathe Park Koch of Hyattsville; and a brother, Jonathan Park of Lewisburg, W. Va.

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