William Griffith, 78, general contractor, lacrosse player

May 12, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

William Leonard Griffith, a general contractor who had been a noted college lacrosse player, ended his life Tuesday in Sparks. He was 78 and spent nearly his whole life in Roland Park.

Born in Baltimore, Mr. Griffith attended Polytechnic Institute before graduating in 1946 from Gilman School. Newspaper stories detailed how he played lacrosse, ice hockey and football. He had varsity letters from both schools.

A 1944 Sun article noted that he competed on the Poly team against Forest Park at Homewood Field in the Maryland Scholastic Association's first nighttime lacrosse game.

He worked at the old Rustless Iron and Steel plant in East Baltimore before joining the Army as a paratrooper and serving in the occupation of Japan.

After completing his military service, Mr. Griffith earned an architecture degree from Princeton University and wrote his dissertation, which he also illustrated, on the Eastern Shore's colonial architecture. He also played lacrosse at Princeton and was named a second-team lacrosse All-American by sportswriters in 1951.

In the 1950s, Mr. Griffith worked in construction with Raymond International, a concrete construction and piling company, on its projects in Puerto Rico and Colombia.

He returned to Baltimore in 1966 and was a project manager with Eastern Shore builder John Whaley on Ocean City condominium buildings, including the Pyramid and High Point North and South.

"He was articulate and an idealist who had many often fixed opinions," said Richard Nash, a lifelong friend and college classmate. "It was difficult to change Bill's mind once he'd made it up."

From 1974 until he sold his business in 1995, Mr. Griffith owned William L. Griffith Co., a general construction business, on East Joppa Road. Business associates said he often outfitted retail stores in shopping centers and worked with Trammell Crow Co., a national developer.

"His integrity was far above the average in this industry," said David W. Peacock of Vienna, Va., who bought Mr. Griffith's company. "We always did business on a handshake, and if he said it, you could go to the bank on it."

David Warfield, a business associate in Hunt Valley, said of Mr. Griffith's business ethics, "He was a principled man. He would pay a subcontractor even if he himself hadn't been paid yet."

Mr. Griffith lived in his childhood home, which was used for exterior shots in the filming of The Accidental Tourist, a 1988 movie based on the Anne Tyler novel.

At neighborhood meetings, he represented his part of Roland Park, known as Plat One because it was the first section built in the community. For many years he served on the board and directed the operation of the Roland Park Swimming Pool. He also attended an annual newcomers party.

A 1997 Sun story detailed how he recovered two large iron urns stolen from his lawn.

At a friend's suggestion, Mr. Griffith drove an hour and a half to Crumpton on the Eastern Shore, where open-air auctions are held. "I was just flabbergasted when I saw them sitting there in the field," he told a reporter. "It was incredible."

He was a weekend sailor and was part of a crew that sailed from Baltimore to Martha's Vineyard, Mass..

A memorial gathering will be held at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at the family's home, 524 Woodlawn Road.

Survivors include his wife of 39 years, the former Joan Sanger, a retired St. Timothy's School English teacher; a son, William James Griffith of Baltimore; a daughter, Elizabeth W. Griffith of Boston; a brother, Edward A. Griffith of Ruxton; and a sister, Mai D. West of Towson.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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