John E. Burleigh Jr., 80, owned nursing home in Catonsville

April 27, 2005|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

John E. Burleigh Jr., who owned and operated the Ridgeway Manor nursing home in Catonsville for nearly half a century, died of cancer there Saturday. He was 80.

Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., he joined the Army in his last year at a Philadelphia high school and was injured when a piece of ordnance exploded during a training session. He recuperated for 18 months and was discharged at the end of World War II with the rank of sergeant.

After working briefly at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, he became an oxygen therapist and medical equipment demonstrator, and frequently visited nursing homes. He later said of the experience, "That's where I could help people," according to family members.

"Initially, he wanted to be a doctor, but he just didn't have the opportunity," said a daughter, Susan B. Murrow of Catonsville. "His nursing home was his way of fulfilling that desire."

In 1952, he began managing what had been the Rev. Albert Opitz Home on Edmondson Avenue. He leased the 31-bed facility and later purchased it and the 11-acre property, which he renamed Ridgeway Manor after a newly installed Catonsville telephone exchange.

"He always thought in an expansive way," said his wife of 56 years, the former Mary D. McCall. "He did things the right way."

Mr. Burleigh bought and drove a Cadillac ambulance to transport patients and became a certified licensed administrator of nursing homes in 1970 after taking courses at George Washington University.

In 1992, he oversaw Ridgeway's expansion to 61 beds in a new building. He converted the original building, which became Glynn Taff Assisted Living, a name taken from the property's original estate name.

A few years later, Mr. Burleigh turned over operation of the homes to his two sons and a daughter.

He was a founding member and first president of the old Catonsville Little Theater, and performed the role of a police officer in The Happiest Millionaire in 1963. He also held the group's tryouts in a cottage on the nursing home property and provided a barn for set construction.

Mr. Burleigh was a member of Delaware Valley Chapter of the 2nd Cavalry Association, a World War II organization, and a past commander of the American Legion's Catonsville Post No. 25.

He read extensively on the Civil War and in the early 1960s drove his wife, children and mother on a two-week vacation in a Volkswagen bus to tour Confederate battlefields and sites.

He was a 50-year Mason, with membership in its Palestine Lodge, York Rite, Boumi Temple and the Catonsville Shrine Club. In the early 1960s, he served on the Catonsville Celebrations Committee for the Fourth of July parade. He was also a member of the Catonsville Rotary.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Catonsville United Methodist Church, 6 Melvin Ave., where he was a 52-year member.

In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include two sons, John E. Burleigh III of White Marsh and Brian C. Burleigh of Westminster; another daughter, Marilyn Zion of Pasadena; a sister, Jane Llewellyn of Indianapolis; two granddaughters; and two step-grandsons.

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