Robert Laird, 75, founding official of Md. lottery

February 12, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Robert J. Laird, a founding official of the Maryland State Lottery who created some of the early games and directed its marketing and advertising, died of cancer Friday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 75 and lived in the Wiltondale section of Towson.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Govans and Rodgers Forge, he was a 1946 graduate of Loyola High School. After service in the Marine Corps, he earned a business degree from the Johns Hopkins University - where he was long active in alumni affairs.

Mr. Laird worked in sales for National Cash Register and Diebold, and was the eastern region sales manager for Oster Manufacturing Co. before being named head of marketing and advertising for the state lottery in late 1972.

"He was the first person we hired," said Stanley S. Fine, an attorney who was director of the lottery from 1974 to 1978. "I saw him as someone who was a hard worker who understood marketing and product development. His years at Oster served him well with the lottery."

Mr. Laird helped set up the lottery's first drawing for what was then a weekly game. Held in Hopkins Plaza in downtown Baltimore, the event drew an estimated 4,000 onlookers May 24, 1973, despite rain. The first winner was a Greek-speaking carpenter who won $50,000.

Several months later, Mr. Laird was among a group that included lottery Chairman George P. Mahoney and state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein overseeing the drawing of the winning ticket for the first $1 million jackpot from among 10 finalists. The winner was Paul McNabb, a doughnut maker who fainted when he heard he would receive a check for $50,000 a year for 20 years.

Mr. Laird also appeared on televised lottery news conferences when million-dollar winners were a novelty, attracting wide interest.

Lottery colleagues said Mr. Laird helped start many of the game's components, including the first 50-cent weekly game, the daily pick-three and pick-four games, a 1976 computerized system and, in the early 1980s, the Lotto game with an increasing jackpot.

Mr. Laird never gambled. He played bridge, but not for money.

"He was not personally a risk-taker, but he was an excellent administrator," said Tom Skarzynski, a former lottery advertising director who lives in Mount Washington. "He was dedicated to making the lottery a successful organization. He helped formulate the original marketing plan that took off and did so well. He was in on all its planning and design."

In 1985, Mr. Laird was named the lottery's chief deputy director while retaining his title as director of marketing. He was also a consultant to other states setting up lotteries. He retired about 10 years ago, then founded RJL Marketing, a direct-marketing service, where he served as president.

From 1988 to 1989, he was president of the 30,000-member Baltimore Alumni Chapter of the Johns Hopkins University. He also was a former chairman and president of the Wiltondale Improvement Association.

A funeral Mass was offered yesterday at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Towson, where he was a member.

Survivors include his wife of 52 years, the former Lillian Liberti, and a son, Brian Robert Laird of Baltimore.

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