Robert Franklin McMahan, 77, car collector, blind-bowling champ

April 12, 2004|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Robert Franklin McMahan, a Buick lover who won more than 100 medals in blind-bowling competitions, died of liver cancer Wednesday at his home in Baltimore. He was 77.

He was born in Newport, Tenn., moving to Maryland when he was about 16 to seek care from the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute after his sight began to deteriorate. He went to City College, graduating in 1945 with hopes of becoming a surveyor, but his dwindling vision prevented it.

"His eyes started to get worse, but he was still able to drive," said his son R. Grady McMahan of Baltimore. He took a job selling cars and later delivered milk for Greenspring Dairy.

In the late 1950s, Mr. McMahan learned to type and in 1958 became a medical transcriptionist, working first for the University of Maryland Hospital and then four years later - after being declared legally blind - for the U.S. Public Health Service, from which he retired in 1984, the same year he lost his sight completely.

"Most people when they lose their sight, their lives go downhill, but not him," said his son, who is also legally blind. His father got stronger, he said, learning about properties and in 10 years' time buying four houses, three of which he rented out.

In addition to real estate, Mr. McMahan acquired a collection of cars, owning more than 400 in his lifetime - 200 of them Buicks, his favorite a 1938 model.

"The were good-running cars, dependable. My diapers were changed in a 1936 Buick at car shows, I'm told," said R. Grady McMahan.

In 1967, Mr. McMahon joined a league for blind bowlers, taking his young son along with him, and started his own group a year later, the Chesapeake Blind Bowlers.

Longtime companion Nancy Schmidt met Mr. McMahan while bowling in the 1960s. They were friends for 20 years before becoming a couple after their marriages ended in divorce.

"We traveled all over the United States to bowl in national tournaments," Ms. Schmidt said, adding that Mr. McMahan won multiple medals for his high scores from the American Bowling Congress.

In 1985, back and leg ailments ended Mr. McMahan's bowling career, but he kept busy working on his cars and offering them for various city engagements. The convertibles were a favorite during annual Flower Mart and Preakness parades.

"He also gave them out for weddings and proms and birthdays." Ms. Schmidt said. "He was a Buick nut."

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Evans Chapel of Memories, 8800 Harford Road, Parkville.

In addition to Ms. Schmidt and his son, survivors include another son, R. Brent McMahan of Apopka, Fla.; two daughters, Robin L. Billings of Essex and Lori A. Wolford of Parkville; his mother, Helen McMahan of Owings Mills; a brother, Charles McMahan of Owings Mills; two sisters, Sarah Larrimore of Baltimore and Betty Reed of Owings Mills; and five grandchildren.

Donations may be made to the American Cancer Society or the American Parkinson's Disease Association.

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