Claude F. `Fleet' McKenzie, 74, lawyer and community activist

February 25, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Claude F. "Fleet" McKenzie, an attorney and activist for his city neighborhood and AIDS-related charities, died of congestive heart failure Saturday at University of Maryland Medical Center. He was 74 and had lived for more than three decades in Seton Hill on the northwest edge of downtown Baltimore.

Born in Athens, Tenn., he earned a degree from Duke University and studied law at Wake Forest University and the University of Baltimore, where he received his law degree.

Mr. McKenzie practiced law for 43 years and was an associate at the Baltimore firm of Levi and Shugarman. He was a workmen's compensation specialist and continued in a private practice after the firm dissolved in 1994.

"Fleet was from the old school," said Michael Mehring, an attorney and former co-worker. "His demeanor was that of a Southern country lawyer. He was unfailingly polite. He was a fixture at the Workmen's Compensation Commission. He had a real understanding of the trials and tribulations of the people who had to work hard for a living."

Mr. McKenzie and his wife of 46 years, the former Ann Llewellyn, were advocates of neighborhood historic preservation and belonged to many similar-minded groups. He was a founder of the Seton Hill Association, and had served a number of terms as president. He completed his last term a month before his death.

"Ever since he moved into the neighborhood, he was one of the leaders of its preservation," said Tom Kravitz, a Seton Hill resident and state Health Department administrator. "He and his wife were largely instrumental in setting up annual tours that brought people here and got a few to buy as well. Fleet was always very caring about needy neighbors, too. He looked out for their interests."

In 1968, Mr. McKenzie worked to have Seton Hill placed on the National Register of Historic Places. He also bought and renovated numerous historic properties. The McKenzies' Druid Hill Avenue home was featured in a 1973 Sun Magazine feature article.

"He and his wife were a major force in the restoration of properties in Seton Hill," said Romaine Somerville, former executive director of the city's preservation commission. "He was generous with his advice to potential restoration enthusiasts."

The McKenzies assisted other sections of Baltimore, including Ridgely's Delight, in organizing to secure historic status. He was among those who defeated the plan to build an interstate highway through Federal Hill and Fells Point.

Family members said that Mr. McKenzie recently was trying to organize a group to help the Arena Players obtain the land surrounding the small McCulloh Street theater for parking, rehearsal halls and study rooms for writers.

""He was a big supporter of the diversity of the neighborhood," said Dr. Gregory K. Lehne, a former Seton Hill neighbor.

In 1976, Mr. McKenzie leased a former dining room in the old Congress Hotel on West Franklin Street and named it the Roman Room. He tried operating it as a bar for two years and then opened Lynn's, a bar on Washington Boulevard in the Barre Circle neighborhood, which he named for a family friend, the Broadway actress Lynn Fontanne.

The bar had an outdoor patio, which Mr. McKenzie donated to charities for fund-raisers. In the Fontanne Gallery above the bar, the McKenzies staged exhibitions of local artists' works.

He supported early AIDS charities, including HERO, the Health Education Resources Organization. He and his wife were grand marshals of Baltimore's 1991 Gay Pride Parade.

"Fleet was a courtly Southern gentleman," said Randy Knepper, a friend and fellow attorney. "They were sociable and outgoing, and they knew people in many different age groups."

The Gay Community Center presented Mr. and Mrs. McKenzie a lifetime achievement award for their activism.

Graveside services were held yesterday in Oxford, N.C.

In addition to his wife, survivors include a stepson, Herbert B. Greene III of Colonial Heights, Va.; a half-brother, George Bishop of Knoxville, Tenn.; his stepfather, John W. Bishop of Oak Ridge, Tenn.; two grandsons; and a great-granddaughter.

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