R. Charles Avara, 72, barber, state delegate for seven terms

October 21, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

R. Charles Avara, a barber-turned-legislator who represented South Baltimore in the House of Delegates for 28 years and was a former co-owner of a weekly area newspaper, died Tuesday at the Caton Manor nursing home while recovering from surgery for nonmalignant brain tumors. The longtime Violetville resident was 72.

A scion of a well-known and politically connected Baltimore Italian-American family, he was born Rosario Charles Avara and raised above his father's Carrollton Avenue barbershop. He was a nephew of the late Mary M. Avara, who headed the former state Board of Censors, and cousin of Simon V. Avara, former president of the state barber board.

"We were raised together and were so close that people thought we were brothers," Simon Avara said yesterday.

Mr. Avara dropped out of high school and earned his General Educational Development certificate in the 1970s. He served in the Navy from 1952 to 1956 in the engine room of a repair ship.

Returning from the service, he took a job as a city police officer until 1960 -- spending his last two years in undercover work on the waterfront. Then he became a partner with his cousin in the Baltimore School of Barbering -- now the International Academy of Hair Design & Technology -- in the 1500 block of W. Pratt St.

"I taught Charlie how to cut hair, and he became a pretty good barber. However, he had a good head for business and handled that side our partnership," Simon Avara said.

After selling his share of the business to his cousin, Charles Avara set his sights on politics.

"Charlie was always great with people and certainly had appeal. I used to call him Mr. Softie because people were always hitting him up for money, and he just couldn't say no," his cousin said.

Easily recognized with his sculpted hair, tailored suits and outgoing personality, Mr. Avara never had trouble connecting with constituents. A Democrat, he was elected in 1966 to the first of seven terms in the House of Delegates from the former 6th District and the redrawn Districts 37 and 47A.

He was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and a member of state and city commissions on law enforcement.

"When it comes to both police work and service on committees and commissions on crime, there is no one in the General Assembly who can match his experience," said a 1982 Evening Sun profile.

"What a great guy. He was an outstanding and very personable legislator who loved public life. And he came from a community he effectively represented," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a fellow Democrat and former colleague in the legislature. "He knew the state as good as anyone, and while serving with the Appropriations Committee was always engaged and was genuinely interested in the welfare of the state."

"He always wanted the best for the state," said friend and former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides. "He was also a very brave person who despite some difficult health problems always maintained a wonderful joie de vivre."

Mr. Avara had congressional hopes, but finished third in the 1976 primary won by Barbara A. Mikulski. He remained in the legislature until losing the 1994 primary to Timothy D. Murphy.

Beginning in 1991, Mr. Avara began experiencing health problems. He had two surgeries for removal of nonmalignant tumors, and a year later was hospitalized for three months after more surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. His last operation was during the summer at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"I always said he was retired by popular demand. It was time, and he was ill. He campaigned in 1994 against my wishes, and frankly I was relieved when he lost," said his wife of 49 years, the former Hazel Jones. "He had a long career and loved being able to count the state's pennies while on the Appropriations Committee. But above all, he had been good for the people."

He was co-owner with his wife of The Enterprise, a South Baltimore weekly that they took over in 1973 and sold in 2000 to the East Baltimore Guide.

In retirement, Mr. Avara enjoyed collecting coins and working on his home computer.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Loudon Park Funeral Home, 3620 Wilkens Ave.

He also is survived by a son, Timothy C. Avara of Elkridge; a daughter, Donna Avara Bright of Baltimore Highlands; two brothers, Vincent Avara of Ocean City and Joseph Avara of Catonsville; and seven grandchildren.

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