William Franklin Zorzi Sr., 80, journalist and PR executive


William Franklin Zorzi Sr., a former newspaperman who became an award-winning public relations executive and Annapolis lobbyist, died of complications from dementia Friday at his North Baltimore home. The former Cedarcroft resident was 80.

Mr. Zorzi was born and raised in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., the son of a produce wholesaler. After graduating from high school in 1942, he moved to Baltimore and worked at the old Glenn L. Martin Co. aircraft plant as a timekeeper.

In 1944, he joined the staff of the old Baltimore News-Post and Sunday American, where he would spend 12 years - first as a police reporter, while earning a bachelor's degree in marketing through night classes at the University of Baltimore.

He became the political reporter in 1948 and covered the administration of Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr. and wrote a weekly political column. He left as assistant city editor in 1956 to begin a career in public relations.

Among his various positions was serving as deputy to the city government's traffic czar, Henry A. Barnes - a job in which he helped pioneer the use of a helicopter for traffic observation and reporting in Baltimore on old WFBR-AM's Trafficopter 130.

In 1965, he became director of public relations and a lobbyist for the Hospital Council of Maryland, where he developed a statewide campaign to encourage registered nurses to return to work. The campaign - "Won't you come home, Nurse Bailey?" - was an effort to ease a nursing shortage in hospitals. It later was featured in public relations and marketing textbooks and won the prestigious Silver Anvil award from the Public Relations Society of America.

He also taught public relations and lectured on journalism and media for several years at the University of Baltimore.

"He was a great newspaperman," said Thomas J. D'Alesandro III who, like his late father, served as mayor - elected in 1967 on a ticket that included William Donald Schaefer for City Council president, with Mr. Zorzi as media adviser. "He had the happy faculty of being able to approach councilmen and mayors and governors with a sense of friendship and at the same time was well-versed in government."

After five years in public relations for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland, Mr. Zorzi became vice president for public affairs of AAA of Maryland in 1973. He increased its visibility, advocating for transportation safety initiatives and emerging as a source for answers on fuel availability and pricing.

Prompted by the national petroleum crisis in 1974, he developed AAA's statewide survey of service stations, which gauged gasoline availability and prices.

"I've practically made a career out of gas pricing," he told The Evening Sun in 1985.

In Annapolis, he advised governors and other elected officials on transportation and safety matters. He lobbied the legislature on bills requiring safety seats for children, seat belt use and driver education, and successfully pushed for a bill requiring trucks to have covered loads.

He was also editor of AAA's magazine, The Maryland Motorist, and used its reader surveys to show legislators how people felt about various issues.

He connected with legislators with a quick wit and gentle simplicity, said Peter B. White, a retired lobbyist and friend.

Mr. Zorzi retired in 1994 from what is now AAA Mid-Atlantic. He remained active in child-safety issues and chaired the Wilson Legislative Caucus, an ad hoc group of Annapolis lobbyists and retirees who meet to assess goings-on at the State House.

His son William F. Zorzi Jr. of Highland, a former reporter and editor for The Sun, said his father's first love was news reporting - a passion inspired early in his life from seeing the comedic play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and when press releases he had written about his Boy Scout troop were published in local newspapers.

He was known for his trademark fedora, a throwback to the newspaper days of old, and usually could be found with a William Penn Perfecto cigar in the corner of his mouth - and four more in his shirt pocket.

"He was the epitome of what a good newspaperman should be, and he was like that all through his professional career," said former Evening Sun reporter Lawrence C. McDaniel.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church, 5502 York Road in Govans.

Mr. Zorzi is also survived by his wife of 51 years, the former Mary Elizabeth Fannon; another son, Patrick F. Zorzi of Timonium; two daughters, Mary Elizabeth Zorzi and Jane Zorzi Tinker, both of Rodgers Forge; and six grandchildren.


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