William Otis Oliver, 84, state employee

April 26, 2004|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

William Otis Oliver, who spent a career in state government helping the jobless find employment, died April 19 at Frederick Villa Nursing Center after suffering several strokes. He was 84.

Mr. Oliver was a native of Philadelphia and moved to Baltimore in 1932 as a youth, graduating from Frederick Douglass High School in 1940.

He attended Lincoln University in Oxford, Pa., until entering the Army in 1942. He later pursued professional studies at Harvard, Princeton, University of Maryland, College Park and other institutions of higher education.

FOR THE RECORD - William Otis Oliver: An obituary in yesterday's editions for William Otis Oliver incorrectly stated the date for his memorial service. It will be held May 6 at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, 10 E. Mount Vernon Place, with a family hour at 10 a.m. and the service at 11 a.m. The Sun regrets the error.

While in the Army, he served in what was then the New Hebrides Islands in the Pacific.

Upon his discharge in 1945, he went to work for the Maryland Department of Employment Security.

He became a manager at the state agency and was instrumental in the 1960s in creating the Job Bank, a computerized clearinghouse of job openings.

The program received accolades from the U.S. Department of Labor and was used as a model for 56 urban areas nationwide, said Mr. Oliver's daughter, Sandra Oliver Heningburg.

"He had a strong interest in making sure that unemployed African-American males would have a fair opportunity to get into the job market," Mrs. Heningburg said.

She said he would drive people to job interviews if necessary and coach them on how to dress and what to say to improve their chance of being hired.

Mrs. Heningburg said her father, who retired in 1980, was always impeccably dressed and had a passion for tennis, big-band music and horse racing.

"He thought that clothes sort of made the man, and how you looked would determine how you would be accepted in the business world," she said. "He always presented the best image possible."

Norman Branch, a close friend since junior high school who became a tailor and made some of his clothing, said Mr. Oliver was meticulous in his attire. "Everything had to be just so," he said.

The two were part of a group of big-band music fans who went "every Friday, for seven straight years" to the Hyatt Regency downtown to hear the Ed Williams Band play music by Count Basie, Duke Ellington and other leading artists, Mr. Branch said.

He said Mr. Oliver, who played tennis in high school and college, was an avid fan of the sport throughout his life.

Mr. Oliver's other major passion was horse racing. He would take his wife to the Preakness every year and enjoyed going to the races, Mrs. Heningburg said.

She said her parents collected horse-racing memorabilia. The recreation room of the house where she grew up was dubbed "the Stable" because it was fully decorated with a horse-racing motif.

Her parents lived for the past 25 years in Bolton Hill, until her father became ill about a year ago and required nursing-center care.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, 10 E. Mount Vernon Place.

In addition to his daughter, who lives in Alexandria, Va., Mr. Oliver is survived by his wife of 62 years, Cordelia Daniels Oliver; a sister, Selma Sue Rozier of Baltimore; one grandson; and one great-granddaughter.

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