George Jay Joseph, who owned and rebuilt Baltimore's Yellow Cab Co. into the region's largest passenger ground transportation business, died of cancer Monday at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. The Chevy Chase resident was 87.
Born in Bethlehem, Pa., he was the son of a Lithuanian immigrant peddler who went on to found a department store in Reading, Pa.
He earned a bachelor's degree at Pennsylvania State University and a law degree from the University of Virginia after Army service during World War II.
Mr. Joseph went into the legal publishing business in downtown Washington in the 1950s and named his first two companies, Jefferson Law Book and Thomas Jefferson Publishing, in honor of the president who established the University of Virginia. Mr. Joseph also founded the Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce and Journal of Law and Education.
Mr. Joseph began his association with Baltimore's Yellow Cab as a vice president in the business -- then largely owned by his father-in-law, Benjamin D. Friedman. In 1974, Mr. Joseph bought out other stockholders and initially considered selling Yellow Cab, which was unprofitable. Instead, he spent the next 15 years rebuilding it and brought one of his four children into the company.
He was a longtime political supporter of William Donald Schaefer and backer of his plans as mayor in the late 1970s to develop the Inner Harbor. He put his Yellow Cabs at downtown hotels -- notable among them the Hyatt Regency, an early component of the area's revitalization.
"He believed that cabdrivers should be ambassadors for the city," said his son, Mark L. Joseph of Bethesda, chief executive officer of Veolia Transportation North America, a ground transportation business whose assets include Yellow Cab. "He had a great love for people."
The elder Mr. Joseph won an exclusive cabstand at Pennsylvania Station, and in 1989 he consolidated Yellow Cab garages in a new complex at Howard and 21st streets.
"He taught me customer service and public service," his son said. "He was the driving force in helping to turn the business around."
Family members said Mr. Joseph revamped Yellow's management and finances, and made it into a component of the largest cab and ground transportation firm in the Baltimore-Washington area.
"I consider my drivers very important human beings because if it weren't for them, we wouldn't roll," he told The Sun in 1989.
When Mr. Joseph would ride in one of his cabs, he would add to the customary tip a $2 bill, which carries the portrait of Jefferson, his son said.
His business became Yellow Transportation and was acquired by Connex Corp., now Veolia, in 2001. At his death, he was chairman emeritus and adviser to Yellow Transportation, which employs about 17,000 people in the U.S. in a variety of transit venues, including rail, bus, medical paratransit, taxis and shuttle vans.
He was a past board president of Camp Holiday Trails for children with severe illness and special health needs in Charlottesville, Va.
He was the first president of the Washington chapter of the Friends of Magen David Adom, Israel's equivalent of the Red Cross. He also belonged to the Baltimore Rotary.
Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at Washington Hebrew Congregation, 3539 Macomb St.
Survivors also include his wife of 57 years, the former Ann Friedman; two other sons, Bruce Joseph of Santa Monica, Calif., and Edward Joseph of Washington; a daughter, Martha Lee Mellis of Scarsdale, N.Y.; a sister, Sara Cohn of Sarasota, Fla.; and six grandchildren.