Milton Bates, 84, civic activist, owned home contracting firm


Milton Bates, retired owner of a home improvement business and civic activist whose political leanings brought him to Washington before a House Un-American Activities subcommittee in the 1950s, died of cancer Sunday at his Canton home.

Mr. Bates, who was 84, was widely known to area newspaper readers through his writing of hundreds of letters to the editor and personal essays published over the past quarter-century in The Sun and The Evening Sun on topics ranging from politics to his boyhood memories of baseball in Baltimore's Easterwood Park.

Born in Baltimore and raised on the city's west side, on Whitelock and McCulloh streets, he was a 1937 graduate of City College. During World War II, he served in France as an Army Signal Corps cryptologist.

As a young man, Mr. Bates became interested in social justice issues and once went on strike while he worked for the old Fish Laundry and Dry Cleaners, where he also met his wife of 62 years, the former Pauline Greenberg.

"All of his political activities boiled down to the fact that he felt that everyone should be given a fair shake," said his daughter, Lida Bates of Baltimore.

Mr. Bates earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Maryland and was a graduate of the university's School of Law but never became a lawyer.

In 1954, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress as the Progressive Party's candidate against Democratic Rep. Edward A. Garmatz. He told an Evening Sun reporter he was for "peace, jobs, civil rights and civil liberties."

"He didn't get many votes. But he never left those issues," said a friend and longtime business partner, Gunther Wertheimer.

Two years later, Mr. Bates invoked his Fifth Amendment rights at a House Un-American Activities subcommittee investigation on communist infiltration in Maryland. Committee investigators asked why Mr. Bates, who had passed the written part of the Maryland Bar Examination, had withdrawn his application.

He testified that he withdrew the application after he appeared before the bar association's committee on character.

"`Were you asked if you were a member of the Communist Party?' was the next question put to the witness," The Sun reported in 1957.

"`I told them I was not,'" was his answer, the paper reported.

"`Were you truthful?'"

"At that point Bates took the Fifth," a Sun story said.

In the 1950s, Mr. Bates owned and operated Seaview Construction Co., a home improvement business. He later went into commercial real estate development. He retired about 20 years ago.

In 1982, then-Gov. Harry R. Hughes appointed him to the Maryland Home Improvement Commission, where he became chairman and befriended fellow member and developer C. William Struever.

"Milton was a kindred spirit and great optimist. He was a bedrock of belief in the good of the world," Mr. Struever said yesterday. "He was a great champion of the common man."

About the time he retired, Mr. Bates took a writing course at Loyola College. He submitted one assignment to The Evening Sun editorial section, and it was accepted and published - the first of his countless submissions to the newspaper.

After moving to Canton about 15 years ago, he became interested in development issues along the waterfront - one of the topics he would address in print. He also was chairman of his condominium association.

His last submission published in the newspaper was in December - a critical commentary on the harsh federal punishment for a pacifist nun's protest of war at a Colorado missile site.

"Milton Bates was someone from whom you learned. You learned how to live. You learned how to think. And learned how to not take yourself too seriously," civic activist Vincent DeMarco said yesterday. "Politically he was courageous and he stood up for what he believed was right, all the time."

In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include a son, Joseph Bates of Baltimore; a sister, Esther Siegel of Baltimore; and two grandchildren.

Graveside services were held Tuesday at Workmen's Circle Cemetery in Dundalk. Plans for a memorial service were incomplete and to be announced on a family Web site,

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