William Healey

[ Age 89 ] Navy musician quit school to support his family by playing his saxophone, a gift from his father

December 04, 2006|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

William H. Healey Jr., a retired Navy musician who estimated he had played "Anchors Aweigh" several thousand times, died of Alzheimer's disease Wednesday at the Maryland Masonic Home in Hunt Valley. The Annapolis resident was 89.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Ellicott Driveway, he quit Gwynns Falls Junior High School in the ninth grade to help support his family by playing a saxophone his father had given him one Christmas. He also sold newspapers and summertime snowballs.

He joined The Evening Sun Newsboys' Band in 1927, and a year later a Sun story about Mr. Healey described him as "three and a half feet short and 58 pounds light." He played solos of Victor Herbert's "A Kiss in the Dark" and "Love's Old Sweet Song" on the band's summer tours that included stops at hotels from Garrett County to Ocean City.

Mr. Healey recalled once playing for march composer John Philip Sousa, who made a guest appearance with the newsboys' band.

He got his first paycheck at age 12 when he played with the Our Gang Orchestra on a live radio show broadcast from the stage of the Hippodrome Theatre as part of Uncle Jack's Kiddie Club. He went on to perform with dance bands at local hotels.

In the mid-1930s, his saxophone was stolen from a car. Police recovered it at a pawnshop but required Mr. Healey to play it as a way of proving his ownership. A newspaper account said he played "Sweet Sue" and "Time on My Hands."

In 1938 he auditioned successfully to become principal saxophonist in the Naval Academy Band. He then joined the Navy and moved to Annapolis several years later. He was a featured soloist on weekly NBC radio broadcasts from the academy.

"He played semiclassical pieces on the air but was the kind of musician who could play anything," said his son Ron Healey of Timonium. "He would play Handel's Messiah with the midshipmen's choir one day and would then perform dance music at cocktail parties for the superintendent."

His son said that during his 28-year career with the band, he played for 28 Army-Navy football games and marched in seven presidential inauguration parades, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Lyndon B. Johnson. He also appeared at the 1939 World's Fair in New York.

The band played for midshipmen's dress parades Wednesdays and at Saturday night dances as well as for Navy sporting events.

A fast-pitch softball player, he represented the Navy in tournaments against other service branches. He led the Annapolis City League in hitting on multiple occasions and was an all-star selection at shortstop, family members said. As a member of the Naval Academy Band baseball team, he was voted to the Severn River Naval Command All-Star team from the 1930s through his 1965 retirement. He was twice named player-manager of the All-Star team.

In 1959 he started selling real estate with Chas. H. Steffey and became a full-time sales agent in 1966 after retiring from the academy with the rank of chief musician. He was annual sales leader for the firm's Annapolis office on several occasions.

From 1972 to 1995 Mr. Healey was the bandmaster and director of the Boumi Temple Shrine Band in Baltimore and took honors in national competitions. He also played sax with the Annapolis Baywinds Orchestra. He last played in July 2000.

At age 80, as a Naval Academy Band alumnus, he played a solo on City Dock in Annapolis with other band members.

Mr. Healey was a life member and former organist for Annapolis Masonic Lodge, the Annapolis Elks Lodge 622, a honorary member of the Annapolis Rotary Club and a life member of the Annapolis Fleet Reserve.

He was buried Saturday with full military honors at Hillcrest Cemetery in Annapolis.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 63 years, the former Madeline Duvall; two other sons, William H. Healey III of Havre de Grace and Dennis Healey of Tampa, Fla.; two daughters, Donna Healey and Cheryl Healey, both of North Palm Beach, Fla.; a sister, June Fisher of Baltimore; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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