William Franklin Cecil III, a former air traffic controller who later became a lawyer and an assistant state's attorney assigned to the Baltimore Firearms Investigation Enforcement Unit, died Friday of brain cancer at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 59.
"Bill was one unique individual. If he had an opinion, you knew about it. He was a fighter in the courtroom and a fighter in life," said Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.
Mr. Cecil, the son of an insurance company executive and a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on Putty Hill Avenue.
As a youngster attending Immaculate Heart of Mary Parochial School in Baynesville, Mr. Cecil joined the school choir and in 1959 sang at the opening of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.
As a teenager, he sang with the Baltimore Opera Company, and was a member of the choir that performed at the 1966 wedding of Luci Baines Johnson in the East Room of the White House.
After graduating from Calvert Hall College High School in 1968, he attended the Community College of Baltimore and then enlisted in the Air Force in 1970.
Trained as an air traffic controller, after he was discharged from the service in 1974 he was hired by the Federal Aviation Administration at the agency's New York Center on Long Island, controlling air traffic flying over but not landing at the metropolitan New York airports.
In 1981, Mr. Cecil, along with 11,000 other air traffic controllers who had gone on strike that year, was fired by President Ronald Reagan.
For a time Mr. Cecil earned a living working as a bartender and a taxi driver before returning to Baltimore. He enrolled at Villa Julie College and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Baltimore in 1987.
Mr. Cecil worked as a bartender at the Prime Rib and the Owl Bar at nights while attending law school during the day at the University of Baltimore, where he earned his law degree in 1990.
After passing the bar exam, he went to work for the Baltimore state's attorney's office and then was appointed to the Baltimore Firearms Investigation Violence Enforcement unit, which investigates nonfatal shootings.
Mrs. Jessamy recalled Mr. Cecil's toughness when the moment called for it. "He was an anchor in the unit and did an outstanding job for us," she said.
Douglas Ludwig, who headed the unit, is an old friend. "Bill was one of a kind and had a passion for everything in life, his family, his friends, his job, which he embraced everyday," said Mr. Ludwig. "He never put on airs. What you saw, is what you got."
When Mr. Cecil lost a case, disappointment was transitory. "Bill would tell the young, new prosecutors in the unit, 'These cases are like buses. They come along every five minutes.' And then he'd pick himself up, and go on," Mr. Ludwig said.
Andrea Mason, a prosecutor in the homicide division, is a longtime friend.
"Bill was loud and a wonderful storyteller. He was probably the most politically incorrect person I've ever known. He'd say things we couldn't say or do. He was so loud that he sounded like a New York cabbie, which of course he once was, but people loved him," said Ms. Mason.
Because of his joie de vivre and outrageous no-holds-barred sense of humor, Ms. Mason said, people naturally gravitated to Mr. Cecil.
"He was a good and welcoming man who had the biggest heart. He lived his life the way he wanted," she said. "When he was diagnosed with brain cancer a year and a half ago, he went out and bought a boat. When I asked him about the prudence of such a purchase, he replied that it was a 'grand idea.' "
Mr. Cecil, who had last been to his office in May, had not retired.
Mr. Cecil lived at Hopewell Point in Essex with his wife of two years, Cheryl Lotz, who kept her maiden name and is manager of the courtroom clerk's division for the Circuit Court of Baltimore City.
Mr. Cecil enjoyed entertaining family and friends, fishing, attending Ravens games and observing the eagles that sometimes flew high over his home.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today at St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church, 5502 York Road, Govans.
Surviving are four sons, Joshua Cecil of Hamilton, Jonathan Cecil of Cub Hill, Eric Cecil and Joseph Cecil, both of Timonium; a stepson, Matthew Lotz of Essex; a stepdaughter, Lauren Lotz of Essex; his mother, Helen D. Cecil of Timonium; three brothers, Robert J. Cecil of Essex, James M. Cecil of Timonium and J. Thomas Cecil of Washington; and three grandchildren. Earlier marriages to Terry Mullen and Nohemi Catalano ended in divorce.