John G. Kovach, 85, Alex. Brown partner, veteran, philanthropist

February 14, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

John G. Kovach, a retired Alex. Brown & Sons senior partner and philanthropist, died of cancer Monday at the Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Homeland resident was 85.

Born in Curwensville, Pa., Mr. Kovach worked as a young man at the family shoe store established by his father, a Czechoslovakian immigrant.

Mr. Kovach earned a degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in Philadelphia. After serving in the Army in Japan during World War II, where he attained the rank of lieutenant, Mr. Kovach earned a master's degree from the Harvard University School of Business.

A certified public accountant, Mr. Kovach was a financial vice president at Middle States Petroleum Corp. in Tulsa, Okla., before moving to Baltimore in 1958 to join the Alex. Brown investment firm. He was made a partner in 1967, and in 1978 he organized Alex. Brown and Sons Reality Advisors (later a subsidiary of Jones, Lang and LaSalle), in which he took companies public and directed mergers and acquisitions.

"He was a man of incredible thoroughness," said A.B. Krongard, executive director of the CIA and a former Alex. Brown chairman. "He radiated integrity, and was a great teacher to all of us who were junior to him."

Mr. Kovach donated to many local charities, including the Baltimore Community Foundation. He established a Children of Slovakia Foundation scholarship for needy students in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. As part of his commitment to further the education of Czech students, Mr. Kovach visited his homeland four years ago.

"He was trying to reach out to people like his father who had no resources for education but showed potential," said his son, Roland Lee Kovach, who lives in Washington, D.C.

When he visited Palin, Mr. Kovach's ancestral hometown, it closed for the day.

"They treated us like visiting royalty," said Chad Sandusky, a family friend for 25 years who also made the trip. "Everyone had taken off from work and were eager to talk to the Americans. The Iron Curtain had come down, and he was very pleased to see that people's freedoms had been restored."

During his cancer treatments at the University of Maryland Medical Center, Mr. Kovach saw the benefits of new technology, family members said. He provided seed money for a PetScan Imaging Center to detect cancer. He also provided funds for the surgical library, for basic medical research and for an interfaith Chapel of Comfort that was dedicated in December. Family members said he declined having his name placed on it.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. today at Govans Presbyterian Church, 5826 York Road, where Mr. Kovach was an elder and donated a meditation room.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 61 years, the former Helen Pellerite; a brother, William Kovach of Phoenix, Ariz.; four sisters, Grace Francemore of Clearfield, Pa., Louise Kovach and Dorothy Ann Larson, both of Erie, Pa., and Mary Jean Kuhn of Edinboro, Pa.; and nieces and nephews. A son, John Michael Kovach, died in 1997.

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