Harrison

G. T.

[ Age 94 ] Businessman served as president of an organization advocating historic preservation in Maryland

November 15, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

George Thomas Harrison, a retired businessman and former president of what is now Preservation Maryland, died of pneumonia Thursday at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The Lutherville resident was 94.

Mr. Harrison was born in Durant, Okla., raised in Tulsa, and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Tulsa in 1935.

In the 1930s, he moved to New York City and took a job with an accounting firm. A few years later, he became controller of a wire rope manufacturer in Savannah, Ga.

During World War II, he served as a naval gunnery officer aboard a destroyer in the Atlantic escorting convoys of Liberty ships to Europe. After the war, he returned to New York as controller of American Chickle Co. until 1949, when he joined his father in the family insurance business in Tulsa. He moved to Baltimore after the business was sold in 1964.

Mr. Harrison, who had oil interests in Oklahoma, teamed with Charles F. "Chilly" Jenkins to form First Charles Street Corp. in the mid-1960s, and they built the former Arlington Federal Building at 201 N. Charles St.

He maintained an office in Baltimore's World Trade Center, remained active as a developer and had business interests in Charleston, S.C., Savannah and Cape Cod, Mass., until retiring in the late 1980s.

Mr. Harrison's interest in historic preservation was sparked by his years in Savannah, and in 1974, he was named president of what is now Preservation Maryland, a statewide historic restoration group that was founded in 1931 as the Society for the Preservation of Maryland Antiquities.

"George made many outstanding contributions. In 1976, he was the one who went to Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical executive. He was the son of Marie Ridgely Lilly, a member of the family that owned the historic Hampton Mansion from the late 1700s to the 1940s," said Nancy M. Schamu, former executive director of Preservation Maryland.

"He wanted to ask Mr. Lilly for $50,000 so he would be able to hire a professional director, and Mr. Lilly said, `I'm not going to live much longer. How about a million?' And that's how we got the million," said Mrs. Schamu, now executive director of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers in Washington.

"He was one of the society's most influential presidents," said Tyler Gearhart, executive director of Preservation Maryland. "He led the transition from an all-volunteer organization to one with a professional staff. He took it from a museum organization to a statewide advocacy group."

According to Mr. Gearhart, preservation successes during Mr. Harrison's tenure included restorations of the Hampton national historic site in Towson, the 1740-vintage Rodgers Tavern in Perryville, and Waverly, the historic family seat of the Howards in Marriottsville that dates to 1756.

Mr. Harrison stepped down from Preservation Maryland's presidency in 1981.

He was a fan of carillons and raised the money for a set installed in Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church in downtown Baltimore.

Over the years, Mr. Harrison owned several classic motorcars, including a 1932 Rolls Royce Phantom II that was painted deep red with black fenders, and a 1927 Pierce-Arrow touring car.

"He would drive them on weekends and only owned one car at a time. Driving them was like driving a locomotive because they had no power steering," said a son, Thomas W. Harrison of Silver Spring.

Mr. Harrison was an avid opera fan and world traveler, and was in his late 80s when he visited China and the Amazon. A longtime Stevenson resident, he had lived at the College Manor nursing home since 2002.

He was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, Maryland Club, and Green Spring Valley Hunt Club, and had a summer home in Wianno, Mass., on Cape Cod.

Services are private.

Also surviving are his wife of 60 years, the former Renata Wilckes; another son, George Thomas Harrison Jr. of Asheville, N.C.; three daughters, Susannah H. Rienhoff of Baltimore, Hope B. Wright of Stevenson, and Holly K. Crosby of Fairfield, Conn.; and 11 grandchildren.fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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