Walter E. Shade Sr., 87, Beth Steel shipbuilder

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

Walter E. Shade Sr., a nationally known shipbuilding figure whose career spanned more than 50 years and who retired as general manager of Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Key Highway shipyard, died Tuesday from complications of a stroke at North Arundel Hospital. He was 87 and lived in Severna Park.

"He made Key Highway the premier ship-repair yard in the world and was fully committed to being able to repair the largest ships. He had an illustrious career and was well-respected in the business," said Lewis F. Sensenbach, former comptroller of the Key Highway yard.

"Walt drove his people pretty hard, but that's what the marine business is all about. He was a man who loved the nuts and bolts of the business, and being very detail-oriented meant he was always on top of a project all the way," said Elmer F. Adler, who was Mr. Shade's assistant general manager.

Mr. Shade was born in Locust Point, the son of a foundryman, and was raised within the sights and sounds of the ocean-going steamers that docked nearby. He was a graduate of city public schools and had an associate's degree in aeronautical design and drafting from the Maryland Institute. He had also studied physics, mathematics and naval architecture and engineering at the McCoy College of the Johns Hopkins University.

He began his shipbuilding career at the age of 18 in 1935 with the Maryland Drydock Co. as an apprentice draftsman in the hull department. He left Maryland Drydock in 1939 after an instructor, a Martin Co. official, thought he showed promise in the field of aviation.

Driving to Middle River each day, Mr. Shade passed the Key Highway yard, where he saw workers busily toiling away. He realized that he thought ships were vastly more interesting than airplanes. "So one year later, there I was back with the red lead. It just wouldn't leave me," he told The Sun in 1964.

He joined Bethlehem in 1941 as a draftsman and served as an estimator, a ship superintendent and chief estimator. During World War II, he helped design the company's yard in Fairfield that included 19 slipways.

The yard, which employed 46,700 shipbuilders who worked around the clock, set a world shipbuilding record by war's end. They built and launched 384 Liberty ships, 94 Victories and 30 LSTs.

In 1944, he was promoted to chief of production planning and scheduling, and he later was named senior ship surveyor and ship superintendent. He was chief estimator at the time he was named general manager in 1964 of both the Key Highway and Fort McHenry yards.

"He was extremely able and very proud of the work that was put out by his people. He went around the yard and talked to the men. He knew what was going on at all times," said former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a former U.S. maritime commissioner.

"He was a straight-talker; he told you exactly the way it was. While he had a pretty wide smile on his face, he always meant business," she said.

"He knew ships inside and out. That was his life," said John J. Lambros, former assistant general manager in Bethlehem Steel's Baltimore shipbuilding division. "He was low-key and a very considerate person who gave the workers a fair shake."

Robert M. Wolfe, former project manager of naval overhauls at Key Highway, was impressed by Mr. Shade's ability to adjust to changing trends in the industry.

"Walter was a very intelligent person who saw the world as it really was. When the shipbuilding business wasn't a growing market, he concentrated on getting 30 percent government work, and the rest was commercial," Mr. Wolfe said.

After his retirement in 1973, Mr. Shade established Manatech Corp., a consulting firm that served the maritime, defense and construction industries. He retired and closed the business in the late 1990s.

His memberships in professional organizations included the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, the Maryland Marine Club, Propeller Club and the Traffic Club.

Mr. Shade had also been active with the Boy Scouts, the Juvenile Diabetes Association and St. Andrew's Society, and he had served on the board of South Baltimore General Hospital, now Harbor Hospital.

"His leisure-time activities were work. He was a workaholic," said a son, Gary J. Shades of Pasadena.

He was an active communicant, Sunday school teacher and vestryman at St. Martin's in the Field Episcopal Church, 375 Benfield Road, Severna Park, where a memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. April 25.

In addition to his son, Mr. Shade is survived by his wife of 61 years, the former Roberta M. Burgess; three other sons, Walter E. Shade Jr., Douglas A. Shade and Robert M. Shade, all of Severna Park; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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