Leonard L. Greif Jr., 91, took portrait photos more than 40 years

December 31, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Leonard L. Greif Jr., a well-known portrait photographer who for more than four decades largely focused on Baltimore's brides, debutantes and professional leaders, died of pneumonia Wednesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Pikesville resident was 91.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Slade Avenue, Mr. Greif was named for his grandfather, Leonard Greif, a prominent clothing manufacturer. His mother, Amy Greif, was a frequent contributor to The Sun and wrote witty poetry about Baltimore social events.

A 1930 graduate of Park School, Mr. Greif earned a bachelor's degree at Haverford College and entered the family business, L. Greif & Brother. He served in the Coast Guard during World War II, then returned to find that the men's suit and overcoat business did not please him.

"I couldn't stand it," he told The Sun for a 1988 article.

After taking courses at a New York photography school, Mr. Greif opened a portrait studio in 1954 at 16 W. Madison St. He moved the operation to the Village of Cross Keys about 20 years later and displayed many color photographs in the window of his business.

"There was a certain cachet to have your photo there," said a son, Geoffrey L. Greif of Baltimore.

"Enter the studio of Leonard Greif and place yourself in the kid-glove hands of the eminent Baltimore portrait photographer," the 1988 article said. "A tall, silver-haired gentleman rises to greet you, stooping slightly at 74, charming with flawless manners and an Old World courtesy. Echoes of blue-blood heritage echo quietly in the studio: brides in glorious gowns, physicians from Johns Hopkins, judges, a Rockefeller or two."

When a reporter asked him what his approach to photography was, he replied, "I like people."

Mr. Greif said he often asked his portrait subjects, "When was the last time you had a portrait done that you liked?" He said their inevitable reply was, "Never."

"He continues, as gently as if he were handling fine china: `I'll bet I can guess what you don't like about your face. Your nose.'"

"His charm, wit, banter, and joie de vivre put his subjects at ease and produced memorable pictures," said his daughter, Carol Sandler of Baltimore.

Mr. Greif's portraits of brides and debutantes appeared for many years on the society pages of The Sun and occasionally in The New York Times. They also lined corridors and offices at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

He and his wife, the former Ann Burgunder, whom he married in 1940, frequently entertained at large parties at their Old Court Road home, Mr. Greif singing theater music in a baritone voice while his wife accompanied on piano. His wife later served as president of the Johns Hopkins Women's Board.

Dr. William R. Brody, president of the Johns Hopkins University, said he and his wife were befriended by the Greifs when they moved to Baltimore.

"We used to go over to the house and play show tunes," he said. "Leonard loved show tunes. He loved life and lived life to the fullest."

"The Greifs have been good friends not only of the Brodys but of Hopkins," Dr. Brody added. "They have been longtime supporters, through their charitable contributions, but also through their service."

Mr. Greif, who retired seven years ago, also was a donor to Haverford College and Park School.

He was an accomplished traveler and liked to be accompanied by his children and grandchildren.

Services will be private.

In addition to his wife, son and daughter, survivors include another son, Stephen Greif of Columbia; a brother, Dr. Roger Greif of New York City; and six grandchildren.

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