Westheimer invested his time wisely, too


Broker, travel fan, writer and more, he was blue-chip stock

Back Story

Taking Note of History

September 03, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

IT'S GOING TO BE hard imagining Baltimore without investment broker Julius Westheimer, "Westy" to family and friends, who died Wednesday afternoon at his Pikesville home while recuperating from recent surgery.

The irrepressible optimist and quintessential Baltimorean would have celebrated his 89th birthday next week.

Thousands of others felt they knew this consummately friendly man through his free-lance financial columns and regular appearances for 29 years on Wall Street Week.

He contributed an endless stream of colorful travel and feature pieces as well as news analyses of business and foreign affairs to The Sun, The Evening Sun and Sunday Sun Magazine for nearly half a century.

All this and more from a man whose "day job" was working for Baker Watts & Co. -- now Ferris Baker Watts -- for more than 30 years.

Beginning in 1975, he took to the airwaves, conducting a weekly financial show on WMAR-TV. In 1981, he left York Road for Television Hill, and quickly became an early-morning fixture on WBAL-TV and Radio with his jargon-free financial advice. He ended his broadcasts with "The Tip of the Day."

His financial column, "The Ticker," debuted in The Evening Sun in 1977, and two years later, he added a twice-a-week feature column. "The Ticker" later moved to The Sun where it continued until 2001.

And just when it seemed Westy was headed for another forced "retirement," he cheerfully reinvented himself.

He took his columns to The Daily Record and the Towson Times, and, after leaving WBAL in 2004, began broadcasting over WYPR-FM.

"How many 88-year-old men go out and find a job? " his wife of 19 years, the former Dorrit Feuerstein Kohn, said yesterday.

"I've worked every day since I was 16 and the word retirement is not in my vocabulary. If I stayed home ... I think I would be dead in six months," he told The Sun in a 2003 interview.

He added: "I love the publicity. I always liked seeing my name in print," besides he joked, "My wife says it helps with restaurant reservations."

Westy was an Ivy Leaguer -- a 1938 magna cum laude graduate of Dartmouth where he was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He never felt the need to fall back on intellectual or academic snobbery. He never had to because he was gifted with a no-nonsense friendliness.

Westy would take endless calls from schoolteachers, for instance, about how to invest their pensions, passbook savings or U.S. Savings Bonds.

He'd patiently repeat the same answer to the same question four or five times a week.

To him, any caller's question was important and deserved a thorough answer. Often, he followed by suggesting a phone call or requesting an address so he could send a more detailed response.

Westy's love of newspapers and the aroma of printer's ink began in his boyhood when he published a neighborhood newspaper.

For years, he collected copies of The Sun and The Evening Sun, which he had bound until they outgrew his home and he donated them to the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

His insatiable love of trains, airplanes and travel -- he flew all over the world in pursuit of solar eclipses to photograph -- were common themes for his stories. At the same time, he had a city editor's eye for the off-beat story.

During the 1960s, he ran a series of photo essays for The Sunday Sun Magazine in which readers were asked to identify the names on manhole covers or the identity of towers, bridges and clocks around the city.

In writing a piece about workers at what is now Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Westy discovered that the parking lot manager had never set foot on an airplane.

"I watch dozens of planes take off and land every day -- but I've never flown in one," he told Westy.

He was capable of digging up weird trivia at times.

"Did you know," he wrote, "that on scheduled airlines the pilot and co-pilot eat different meals? If the pilot eats chicken, for example, the co-pilot will have braised beef. Eating different meals prevents accidental food poisoning of both, the airlines explain, in the event one dish is bad."

In 1971, Westy flew on the inaugural Pan-American 747 flight from New York to London, and attempted to describe the enormity of the aircraft for readers.

"The 747 truly staggers the imagination. Stood on end in Mount Vernon Place, it would top the Washington Monument by 25 feet. Lew Alcindor, wearing a stovepipe hat, could stand upright in the intake mouth of one of its great engines with room to spare," he wrote.

Every year, he'd write "Remembering Dad on His Birthday," recalling the wit and wisdom of his father, Milton F. Westheimer, who had been in the investment business.

"I remember him best and miss him most. He was the liveliest, most energetic, interested man I ever knew," Westy wrote.

He always included several examples of his father's sage advice when it came to investing or saving money: "Buy a ham sandwich and a cheese sandwich rather than a ham-and-cheese, because you get more bread." "On a sleeper train trip, ride as far as possible by coach." And, "never buy on margin; never sell short because your loss can be unlimited."

A man of unbounded charm and wit, Westy, in his final column for The Sun, wrote, "I'll say goodbye with a quotation from James Reston's final New York Times column: `Please don't push, officer, I'll go quietly.'"

-30-, Westy.

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