John Mason Jr.

[ Age 87 ] Heavy-equipment salesman helped found Glenelg Country School and cherished sailing on the Chesapeake

November 19, 2006|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,Sun reporter

John T. "Jack" Mason Jr., a machine salesman who helped found Glenelg Country School, died of complications from dementia Monday at his family's farm in Ellicott City. He was 87.

In 1936, Mr. Mason and other YMCA members from his hometown of Wilmington, Del., traveled to the Olympic Games in Germany, said his son John "Tenney" Mason of Sykesville.

The YMCA group refused to salute when Adolf Hitler addressed the crowd. They were promptly arrested and jailed for a few hours before diplomats were able to free them. "That was his personal show of defiance," his son said.

As a teenager, Mr. Mason moved to Virginia, where he graduated from Episcopal High School in Alexandria. He earned a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Virginia, and met his future wife, Frances Wellford, while a student there. They were married in 1943.

From the 1940s until his retirement a few years ago, Mr. Mason sold heavy industrial equipment for Dravo Corp. But his personal life was far more bucolic.

In 1950, the Masons purchased a dilapidated farm, which they fixed up and named Squirrel Hill. There they raised five children, and tended horses, ducks, geese, a flock of 80 sheep and exotic chickens.

"He was out there mowing hay, working on the barn," his son said. "He wasn't that involved in the day-to-day feeding of the sheep - he was the guy that we called in for the big jobs."

Two geese, which the family named John and Marsha, pecked and squawked by the back door of the farmhouse for years. They occasionally attacked guests, he said.

When longtime friends Kingdon and Mary Gould decided to start a new school, they asked the Masons to help. In 1954, with a few other families, they renovated an old manor house in Ellicott City and opened Glenelg Country School.

Mr. Mason was a member of the board of trustees during the early days of the school. Today, more than 800 students are enrolled in prekindergarten through 12th grade at the private, college preparatory school, according to its Web site.

While Mr. Mason enjoyed working on the farm, his real passion was sailing, his son said. As a young man, he raced Star-class boats in Elk River, but things changed after he had children.

"When we were growing up, he had these boats I called floating fortresses," his son said. "We used to joke that we would put up the sails and jellyfish would swim past us - we couldn't even catch the jellyfish."

On the water, everyone referred to Mr. Mason as "Captain Bligh," his son said. He would sail his boats, The Imp and The Troll on the Chesapeake Bay with his children and dog. Sometimes they would drop anchor and spend the night on the water.

"When he was out on his boat, he considered himself the captain," his son said. "He was a tough captain, and, justifiably so, if you have three or four kids and a dog on your boat."

A service was held yesterday.

In addition to his wife and son, survivors include another son, Edmund Mason of Ellicott City; two daughters, Katharine "Jinx" Chapman of Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., and Mary McDonald Blake of Ellicott City; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Heather Mason, died in 1971.

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