Harry Jacobs Pistel Jr., 74, athlete, Balto. County public works chief

March 31, 2003|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Harry Jacobs Pistel Jr., public works chief in Baltimore County during the 1980s and a well-known player and coach in Maryland's club lacrosse circles, died March 24 at his home in Randallstown after a stroke. He was 74.

Born and raised in Baltimore, Mr. Pistel graduated from Polytechnic Institute in 1946. He earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1949 from the Johns Hopkins University, where he was a member of the swim team.

After graduation, he was hired as a project engineer by the Maryland State Roads Commission, now the State Highway Administration. He remained with the agency for 31 years, becoming district engineer for Baltimore and Harford counties.

During a heavy rainstorm on a Sunday in August 1971, Mr. Pistel went to eastern Baltimore County, where water from Stemmers Run was backing up into homes. He worried that nearby highway construction might have contributed to the problem.

That impressed then-Del. Donald P. Hutchinson, who spotted Mr. Pistel at the scene and introduced himself.

"He didn't have to do that work, and he didn't have to interact with me," Mr. Hutchinson said. He was "a great communicator who understood the job, and his role. And I came to respect him as a result."

In 1980, after Mr. Hutchinson had been elected county executive, he asked Mr. Pistel to be his public works director.

"He was terrific," Mr. Hutchinson said. "He had to diversify himself very quickly and learn other disciplines. And he did it like it was a freshman college course. It just came easy to him."

Mr. Pistel was public works chief from 1980 until 1986. In 1987, he became vice president for construction management at Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson PA, a Hunt Valley engineering firm. He retired in 1999.

"He was the kind of guy you'd want to sit down and have a beer with," said Nolan Rogers, former counsel to the State Highway Administration and Mr. Pistel's former lacrosse teammate.

"He was a very popular guy, as well-liked in the field of lacrosse as in the highway engineering profession," he said.

Lacrosse was Mr. Pistel's lifelong passion. He began playing for the Maryland Lacrosse Club in 1949, first as a midfielder and later on defense. He was a five-time club all-star defenseman before ending his playing days in 1966, at age 38.

He became an assistant MLC coach in 1966 and head coach by 1967. His teams won the United States Lacrosse Association's Southern Division Championship in 1969 and 1970. Mr. Pistel was named Club Lacrosse Coach of the Year in 1969. In 1973, his club won the Hero's Invitational Tournament championship.

Mr. Pistel retired as MLC coach in 1977, but returned in 1987 and served as its assistant coach until 1996. The team has since disbanded.

Lacrosse "was a huge part of his life," said Robert Heaton, who knew Mr. Pistel for 20 years as an opposing player and coach.

"His attitude toward [game] officials would be deferential and understanding, but still with a little bit of a needle in it," he said. "He was always one of the most affable, capable and fun guys to be around. ... There weren't any bumps in the road for Harry. He just took things as they came along and rolled on."

Martin "Mitch" Tullai, former athletic director at St. Paul's School, where the club often played, said Mr. Pistel was "certainly one of the major reasons why the MLC club attained such wonderful respect."

"He was always around to handle something that needed to be handled," Mr. Tullai said. "I can see him now, liming the field to make sure everything was set up for the game, and after the game, making sure everything was cleaned up."

Mr. Pistel served on the club's board of directors for many years. He supported the development of high school and college players through the Hero's Summer Lacrosse League.

Off the field, he enjoyed attending his grandchildren's sports competitions and traveling with his wife, the former Betty Jane McCulloh, whom he married in 1950.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Thomas Pistel of Jarrettsville, chief public works inspector for Howard County, and John Pistel of Indianapolis; three daughters, Deborah Bryant of Baltimore, Virginia McGee of Eldersburg and Nancy Stodola of Manassas, Va.; and 12 grandchildren.

Services were held Friday.

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