Dr. Henry Dillon, 79, optometrist

April 11, 2005|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Dr. Henry Dillon, a retired Baltimore optometrist who was an owner of the New Deal Optical Co., died of Alzheimer's disease Saturday at the Keswick Multi-Care Center. The Pikesville resident was 79.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Wylie Avenue, Dr. Dillon was a 1943 City College graduate who earned a degree at Philadelphia's Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1946. Just 20 years old, he was too young at the time to sit for the Maryland State Optical Board's examination. Until reaching age 21, he worked as an intern in his field.

Once licensed, he began examining eyes and fitting glasses at the old May Co. store at Howard and Lexington streets. While there, he was asked by the owners of the New Deal Optical Co. to join them in the established business. In 1956 he joined New Deal as a partner. While working at the firm's Liberty Street location in downtown Baltimore, he observed his customers' habits.

"He realized that after World War II people weren't going downtown to shop. He saw the suburbs as the place to be," said his daughter, Nancy Dillon Tobias of Lutherville.

In 1957 he signed a lease with developer James Rouse to be one of the initial group of tenants at Harundale Mall in Glen Burnie, which would open the next year.

Under his direction, New Deal located stores throughout the metropolitan area, from Rolling Road to Dundalk, and once had more than a dozen branches.

"He was always going to professional development seminars to learn the new techniques," his daughter said. "He studied with Bausch & Lomb and helped introduce the soft contact lens to Baltimore."

After the original New Deal store was demolished for construction of the Statler Hilton Hotel, Dr. Dillon relocated in the first block of N. Howard St., about a block north of what is now the 1st Mariner Arena.

Family members said that he developed a following among circus performers who played what was then called the Civic Center. He also had a following at the University of Maryland's downtown campus.

He fitted elephant trainers Axel and Donna Gautier with contact lenses. He also worked with other members of the local entertainment industry who did not want to appear in public in glasses.

He retired 12 years ago and sold the stores to an Australian optical company, family members said. Dr. Dillon then volunteered at Sinai Hospital's Department of Ophthalmology, where he made initial diagnoses of patients.

Dr. Dillon was a 32nd-degree Mason. He also was a member Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and its Brotherhood for five decades.

In his free time, Dr. Dillon maintained a garden of 40 rosebushes and other perennials. He had been a Baltimore Colts season ticket holder.

Services will be at 2 p.m. today at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8600 Reisterstown Road.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of 53 years, the former Sonya Shane; a son, Robert Dillon of Chicago; and three grandchildren.

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