Final TV bell rings for `Westy'

WAY BACK WHEN

April 17, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Even if he wasn't one of Baltimore's best-known citizens, the rigorous lifestyle that Julius Westheimer pursues would probably wear out folks half his age.

Taking time out only for heart surgery in 1994, the 87-year-old financial adviser has continually appeared on local television stations for nearly 30 years.

Earlier this month though, Westheimer, known as "Westy," announced he was cutting his schedule a bit. He told listeners he was retiring from his early morning gig on WBAL-TV and that his last broadcast would be at the end of the month.

He began dispensing understandable financial advice on the station's early morning newscasts in 1981. His local TV career, though, began in 1975, with a weekly financial show on WMAR-TV. For years, he also wrote "The Ticker" column, first in The Evening Sun, where it debuted in 1977, and later in The Sun, where it continued until 2001.

He was a panelist for 29 years on Maryland Public Television's Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser, which gave him a national reputation.

At a time when late night revelers are finally calling it quits, newspaper delivery trucks are rattling through neighborhood streets, and barking dogs are greeting the gathering dawn, a light snaps on promptly at 3 a.m. in the Pikesville home that Westheimer shares with his wife of 18 years, the former Dorrit K. Feuerstein. This is the beginning of a routine that goes on five days a week.

"I jump out of bed at 3 a.m. It's something you get used to by doing it. I actually look forward to it," he said in an interview the other day. "While sipping a cup of coffee, I read The Sun, New York Times and Wall Street Journal. I leave my home at 4 a.m. and get to the station by 4:30 a.m."

Once on Television Hill, Westheimer applies his makeup and prepares for his broadcast.

"I go on with the `Tip of the Day,' at 5:45 and at 6:15 take calls from callers," he said.

Westheimer is a friendly, outgoing individual who combines an avuncular style with a certain earnestness. He easily reassures callers no question is too trivial.

Westheimer, who was born and raised in Baltimore, is the son of Milton F. Westheimer and Helen Gutman Westheimer. His father was an investment banker and his mother was the daughter of Julius Gutman.

It was his grandfather, a German immigrant, who founded Julius Gutman & Co., a downtown Baltimore department store, in 1877. His father and two uncles owned Westheimer & Co. located at 211 E. Redwood St., where Westheimer worked in the boardroom as a youngster after school and on Saturdays.

"I was a board boy and I chalked up quotes. Dad paid me $5 a week and he said I was lucky to be paid that," he recalled with a laugh.

After Park School, he went to Dartmouth College, where he earned a bachelor's degree, was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude in 1938.

He began his business career as a $35-a-week executive trainee in Macy's toy department in New York in the late 1930s. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Corps.

His first wife, Ernestine Hartheimer, a Park School chum, died in 1985.

After the war, he returned to Baltimore, joined the family business, and became president of Gutman's, which later merged with Brager-Eisenberg department store.

In 1961, he became a broker with what is now Ferris, Baker Watts, where he is managing director and head of the Westheimer Group. He has no plans of retiring.

"I can truly say there have been no unhappy moments," said Carolyn Walpert, his secretary of 42 years. "Sure, we bicker sometimes like married people. But we never stay mad and move on."

In his private life, Westheimer tries to play golf three times a week at the Suburban Club. He is also a serious railroad photographer and several times a year a driver takes him to the famous former Pennsylvania Railroad's Horseshoe Curve near Altoona, Pa., where he photographs heavy freight and Amtrak passenger trains crossing the eastern and western slopes of the Alleghenies.

Now, what will he do with his mornings?

"I'm still going to get up at 3, drink some coffee, and read the papers," he said. "I was also thinking of writing a second book, but my wife said if I did that, I better get a third wife," he said.

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