William G. von Paris, a World War II veteran and retired Baltimore moving and storage company executive who donated his services in moving the Maryland Civil War monument to Gettysburg, died of a stroke Thursday at Franklin Square Hospital Center. He was 85.
A member of a Baltimore family in the moving business since 1892, Mr. von Paris was born and raised in the city and was a 1935 graduate of Mount St. Joseph High School in Irvington. He attended the University of Baltimore.
He worked at B. von Paris & Sons -- the business established by Eligius von Paris with a single horse and wagon -- before and immediately after his wartime service with the Army Signal Corps in North Africa and Italy. The business is now operated by fifth-generation family members.
"As a little boy, he'd ride on the truck with his father and brothers. Later on, when he was old enough, he started carrying furniture," said a son, John F. von Paris of Upper Falls.
"He started at the bottom and rose through the business," said a brother, Eligius V. "Lee" von Paris of Lutherville. "Because he had worked on the trucks and in sales and administration, he gained an intimate knowledge of the moving and storage business. He devoted his whole life to that goal and making the business successful,"
Mr. von Paris had an outgoing personality and was able to put others at ease, his brother said.
"He had the type of personality that when you were talking to him, you were the only important person in the room. He could make people feel comfortable when they were around him," he said.
Mr. von Paris had been president of Hampden Moving & Storage Co. and a member of the board of what is now von Paris Enterprises, retiring in 1981.
The company, now based in Savage, owns and operates other moving and storage companies and warehouses in the area. Clients have included Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, as well as royalty and celebrities, family members said.
One challenge that Mr. von Paris never tired of was moving pianos.
"He had to rig pianos that always seemed to be located on the third floor of East Baltimore rowhouses," his son said. "And he loved the challenge because there weren't many around who could do that. And as far as we know, he never lost a piano."
Mr. von Paris was also proud of what family members described as a flawless move in 1992 of the Orioles from the team's old Memorial Stadium home to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
In 1994, Mr. von Paris arranged at no charge to move the 30-ton polished granite and bronze monument honoring the 3,500 Marylanders who fought at Gettysburg from Georgia, where it was sculpted.
Mr. von Paris was a 45-year communicant of St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church in Bradshaw, where he was often called upon to help relocate nuns when they were given new assignments -- another service he provided at no charge.
"The nuns always had trunks that they seemed to fill with books. It was like moving a safe, but he didn't mind. He loaded them aboard his Chevrolet station wagon and drove them to Wilmington or Philadelphia," his son said.
Mr. von Paris was married in 1947 to Mary Carolyn Thompson, and since 1958 the couple has resided at their 50-acre Arcadia Farm in Upper Falls.
He was a member of the Kingsville post of Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Kiwanis Club.
Proud of his German heritage, he was a member of the Baltimore Kickers Soccer Club and often enjoyed playing host in his home to soccer teams and musical and cultural exchange groups visiting from Germany. He also enjoyed playing German music on his accordion.
A funeral Mass was offered yesterday at St. Stephen, where the company's oldest moving van, a 1918 Selden, was on display along with its newest, a White Freightliner, to honor Mr. von Paris.
In addition to his wife, son and brother, Mr. von Paris is survived by three other sons, Bonaventure V. "Ben" von Paris of Los Angeles, William G. von Paris Jr. of Salisbury and Franz X. von Paris of Timonium; two daughters, Anne Marie McMahon of Upper Falls and Mary Beth Ward of Bel Air; three other brothers, Bonaventure E. von Paris of Catonsville, Joseph H. von Paris of Woodlawn and George H. von Paris of Ellicott City; two sisters, Margaret Muller of Westminster and Anna Wachter of Eldersburg; 12 grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.