Henry John Knoch, 89, Sun editor and columnist for almost 50 years

January 26, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Henry John Knoch, a retired Sun editor who helped put out the paper for nearly half a century, died Thursday of leukemia at Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Ranson, W.Va. The former Academy Heights resident was 89.

An assistant sports editor for several decades, he retired in 1978 as a veterans affairs columnist, copy and makeup editor.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Warwick Avenue, he left Polytechnic Institute to help support his mother. He took a job as a copy boy at The Sun's old headquarters at Charles and Baltimore streets. He was soon promoted to what was called, in newspaper patois, a "district man," a reporter assigned to neighborhood police stations.

He then joined the paper's bank of rewrite staffers -- reporters who could type quickly, spell well and who knew the city, its streets and geography. A sports buff -- he played tennis frequently at Clifton Park and was a third baseman on a Druid Hill Park reporters' team that included future New York Times columnist Russell Baker -- Mr. Knoch moved to the paper's sports department more than 60 years ago. For more than two decades, he was an assistant sports editor.

"Henry was a good newspaperman and a good guy," said Robert Maisel, The Sun's retired sports editor. "He was my right-hand man who ran the inside operation. He was also a good friend."

Another colleague, Seymour S. Smith, said, "He was easygoing and friendly [and] always smiled. I learned quite a bit working alongside him."

On Aug. 26, 1943, he wed the former Margaret Virginia Smedley, who survives him. Two days later he received military orders that eventually took him to England, France and Germany, where, as an Army supply sergeant, he fought in numerous campaigns, including the Battle of the Bulge.

While stationed in England, he went into London on leave and ordered a set of six Wedgwood dinner plates for his new bride at Harrod's department store. After the china arrived in Baltimore, she wrote her husband a letter requesting additional pieces. He extracted a promise from a Harrod's sales clerk for more china as it became available.

Mr. Knoch, who spent more than two years overseas, was then assigned to the invasion of the European continent. He landed at Normandy in June 1944 and was in a foxhole in France when an Army mail clerk brought him an oversized crate. It contained six cups and saucers that the Harrod's clerk had shipped to the front.

"His major came by and was not happy. He told my husband to get rid of it. He said, `We're moving out tomorrow,'" recalled Mrs. Knoch. "But the saucers and cups eventually made it back to me with only two broken handles. I have them to this day."

In March 1964, after working a night shift for nearly 35 years, he asked to work days. He became a Sunday Sun copy and makeup editor and wrote a veterans affairs column until he retired in 1978.

"He did his job so well and so quietly. He never made any disturbance or any complaints," said John Dorsey, a retired Sun arts critic.

More than 25 years ago, he and his wife built a home overlooking the Potomac River outside Harpers Ferry, W. Va.

Services were held yesterday in Front Royal, Va.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Knoch is survived by nephews and nieces.

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