Henry C. Amos, 76, college boxer, owner of Tijuana Tacos restaurant

April 07, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Henry C. Amos, a colorful raconteur and former restaurateur whose legendary hijinks made him a popular local figure for nearly 40 years, died from complications during heart surgery Tuesday at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Baltimore. He was 76.

No one could ever accuse Mr. Amos of having been stuck in a career rut.

He served two years in the Army Air Forces, boxed in college for four years, worked as an industrial engineer, was a management trainee, taught physical education, established one of the earliest Mexican restaurants in Maryland, sold antiques, and happily added "beach bum" to his resume after spending six years in California sunning himself.

Mr. Amos, who was living at Westminster House in downtown Baltimore at his death, was born and raised in Charlottesville, Va. He was 16 when he graduated from the Miller School of Albemarle.

He turned down a full scholarship to study at the University of Virginia, and instead headed for Baltimore where he studied drafting and worked as a draftsman during World War II.

He enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1945 and was discharged in late 1946.

He then enrolled at Michigan State University, where he was captain of the boxing team. Mr. Amos seldom lost a match and made All-American his senior year. But he lost the NCAA title because of a dog.

He was fighting Mac Martinez for the championship when a dog sauntered across the ring just before the start of the third and final round.

"I started to laugh and Mac musta thought I was laughing at him. He got terribly upset and came out like a buzz saw. He knocked the hell outta me, won the round by two points, and the fight by a point," Mr. Amos said in a 1973 Sun interview.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in physical education in 1953, Mr. Amos worked as an industrial engineer in Michigan before moving to Baltimore, where his mother was living. He was a management trainee at Bethlehem Steel Corp. at Sparrows Point for four years but gave that up.

He then worked as a salesman before landing a job as a physical-education teacher in Baltimore County public schools. After earning enough money from his teaching job and selling antiques on the side, he headed for California, where he fell under the influence of Mexican food. He returned to Maryland and went to Ocean City, where he opened a taco stand in the mid-1960s.

"He had taken this yellow house and painted it safety yellow. It so annoyed the city fathers because it glowed even in the dark. There was no way you could miss it," said Patrick Francis, a former brother-in-law and Bolton Hill resident.

Flushed with success, he opened a second Tijuana Tacos in the 5800 block of York Road near the Senator Theatre. He made no claims that it was authentic Mexican food and freely admitted that he "jazzed up recipes" and used frozen tortillas. "Did you think we had a little Mexican woman out back grinding the corn on rocks?" he said in the Sun interview.

Mr. Amos was sometimes casual when paying taxes or bills and extremely creative with his excuses.

"When the IRS padlocked the place for nonpayment of taxes, he'd make up some story. When the lights were turned off by Baltimore Gas and Electric, he'd tell the customers that there was a power failure in the neighborhood," said Mr. Francis, who had worked as the restaurant's manager.

He closed the restaurant in the mid-1980s and retired.

Larry Harris, a retired Evening Sun sports reporter and longtime friend, had been a roommate of Mr. Amos.

"He was just the most unusual person I've ever encountered. He was just brilliant. He'd get in the ring and then quote Shakespeare. And he was probably the greatest party animal who ever lived," Mr. Harris said. "He was always dreaming up things to do."

Among his many creations was the founding of the Golden Arm softball team that was sponsored by football legend Johnny Unitas, who owned a well-known York Road watering hole.

"We're a veteran team totaling 722 years, or 38.2 years per man," Mr. Amos said in the interview.

As coach, he wore a hat mounted with a bird insignia. However, it was a real bird that had been stuffed by a taxidermist.

"He also figured every bar had at least one strong man so he formed a 50-member tug-of-war league," Mr. Harris said.

His marriages to the former Leigh Moore and Mary Francis ended in divorce.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. today at Connelly Funeral Home of Dundalk, 7110 Sollers Point Road.

Mr. Amos is survived by a son, Stephen A. Rehner of Greenbelt; a daughter, Kathryn Leigh Rehner of Trumansburg, N.Y.; a stepdaughter, Mary Ellen Chambers of Baltimore; a brother, Andrew Amos Jr. of Delta, Pa.; and six grandchildren.

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