Donald B. Ratcliffe

A Prolific Architect, He Designed Mays Chapel Village, As Well As Homes And Academic Structures

April 21, 2009|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

Donald Burns Ratcliffe, a prolific architect who designed Mays Chapel Village, as well as homes and academic structures in Baltimore, died Friday from complications of prostate cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care. The Ruxton resident was 83.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Mount Royal Avenue, he was a 1944 Calvert Hall College High School graduate and attended Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg. He enlisted in the Naval Air Corps in 1944 and served until 1946. He then earned a bachelor's degree in architectural engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1954, he established his architecture business, Donald B. Ratcliffe, A.I.A. Associates Inc., in Stevenson. Family members said he planned to work the day he died.

"His philosophy was 'Keep it simple and get the job done,' " said his son, Peter Ratcliffe of Stevenson. "He could simplify the most complicated of issues. He was a practical man and a productive architect."

For many years, Mr. Ratcliffe earned commissions from local builders and developers.

"He had a tremendous talent," said Joseph Keelty, an official of the James Keelty Co. "He had a unique ability to handle a job. He'd say, 'No problem.' "

Mr. Keelty said he met Mr. Ratcliffe on a golf course. They played together in a group they called "the Hackers." He also played gin rummy daily with old friends. Among his close friends, he was known as "the Rat."

Mr. Keelty said he and Mr. Ratcliffe worked together for many years, and the architect designed residences and other buildings in Mays Chapel Village and Mays Chapel North in Baltimore County.

"He was extraordinarily pragmatic," said Jack Luetekemeyer, a friend. "One of his favorite expressions was 'We'll work it out in the field.' He had the best of clients and wasn't hung up about anything except getting the job done."

Mr. Ratcliffe designed structures for Stevenson University and Mount St. Mary's University, Park School, Garrison Forest School and the chapel at Loyola High School. He planned the last group of homes built in the Village of Cross Keys.

He also designed a Westinghouse headquarters building in Linthicum and a dealership for Jerry's Chevrolet.

In 1972, Mr. Ratcliffe joined the board of what was then Villa Julie College, now Stevenson University. He became board chairman in 1988 and held that post for 14 years. He retired from the board in 2002 and supported the school's name change.

"He was mindful of the need to change with the times," said the university's president, Kevin J. Manning. "I'd like to remember Donald as a positive, cordial, happy person who energetically worked in his office until two weeks ago."

During the school's 2001 commencement exercises, Mr. Ratcliffe was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters.

"He has unfailingly been the friend in need, the droll diffuser of crises real or imagined, the strong presence during every major decision, and the delightfully uncommon man of good sense and good character," noted a program distributed during the President's Dinner in 2002, acknowledging his years of service to the school..

Family and friends subsequently established an endowment scholarship that bears his name, the Ratcliffe Scholars.

He was a founding member of the Rehoboth Bay Sailing Association and served on the Maryland State Board of Architects. He was a past board member of the Eastmet Corp. and First Virginia Bank.

A Mass of Christian burial will be said at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N Charles St., where he was a member.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 55 years, the former Joan Fallon; five daughters, Kate Ratcliffe Hoch and Anne Hawkins, both of Ruxton, Tricia Davis of Woodbrook, Nancy Ferrell of Towson and Sally Ratcliffe of Lutherville; and 11 grandchildren.

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