Ralph E. Marquiss Sr., engineer and singer

Engineer and partner with RKK firm had many interests, including singing, flying airplanes and writing short stories

November 19, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Ralph Edwin Marquiss Sr., a retired consulting engineer, former partner in the Baltimore engineering firm of Rummel, Klepper & Kahl, and a professional singer, died Saturday of prostate cancer at the Vermont Respite House in Williston, Vt.

The former longtime Towson resident was 84.

Mr. Marquiss, the son of a World War I veteran and a stenographer, was born and raised in New York City.

After the death of his father when he was 12, he had to go to work to help support his family and secured a job as a choirboy at Grace Church School.

"He received free tuition, free lunch and 50 cents a week," said a daughter, Katherine Ambrose of Kingsville.

He was a 1941 graduate of Mount Hermon Preparatory School, now Northfield Mount Hermon, in Mount Hermon, Mass.

Mr. Marquiss attended Trinity College and Green Mountain College and earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1945 from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

He served in the Navy from 1945 to 1946 as an engineering division officer aboard the cruiser USS Fall River and participated in Operations Crossroads, the initial nuclear bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946.

After working at Whitman Requardt & Associates LLP and Burns & Roe, Mr. Marquiss began his 31-year career with Rummel, Klepper & Kahl in 1958.

In 1968, Mr. Marquiss, who was responsible for water supply, wastewater management, flood control and hydroelectric projects, was made a partner in the firm.

Albert R. Stallknecht, a retired RKK partner who lives in Mechanicsburg, Pa., worked closely with Mr. Marquiss for years.

"He did lots of work at the Lake Montebello filtration plant through the years, and for every drink of water anyone takes in the Baltimore area, they can thank Ralph," said Mr. Stallknecht.

"He worked on what we call both clean and dirty water projects," he said.

Mr. Stallknecht recalled his friend's meticulously written proposals.

"He was our rainmaker when it came to water and wastewater projects. His technical writing was exemplary. It really was beautiful. It had a good tempo, brevity and was so complete. He was able to come down or go up to the level of the clients," he said.

"He wrote them first in longhand with a large Mount Blanc fountain pen. He was also a pilot and at high altitudes, his pen would leak and leave a big blot on his shirt. We used to kid him about that," Mr. Stallknecht said with a laugh.

"He was a highly accomplished and modest man who hit the ground running every morning, determined to make the best of the day," he said.

William H. Williams was Mr. Marquiss' secretary for 20 years.

"You never worked for Ralph, you worked with Ralph," said Mr. Williams, who now lives in Dallas.

"You worked hard, but RKK in those days was like a big family. He was a big part of that. Ralph would invite us to parties at his home. He made you feel like he was a friend and not simply your employer," he said.

"He was kind-hearted, but when he had to be strict, he could be. But a few moments later, it was all forgotten and he'd be patting you on the back saying, 'Nice job,' " he said.

A tenor, Mr. Marquiss for years sang professionally with the Baltimore Civic Opera Co., Peabody Opera Co., Hilltop Light Opera Co., Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Handel Choir, Cathedral Choral Society and the Bach Society.

Through the years, he was the leading tenor in performances of "The Marriage of Figaro," "Madame Butterfly," "Manon Lecaut" and "The Mikado."

According to Mrs. Ambrose, her father liked recalling a memorable evening when Ezio Pinza came to Baltimore to sing with Rosa Ponselle, and they selected a piece that required an additional tenor.

Mr. Marquiss was invited to join the two opera stars on stage for the performance.

"He said it was simply magical standing next to Pinza and singing with him," Mrs. Ambrose said.

Mr. Marquiss' last public performance was a decade ago at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

Another interest was flying. He earned his pilot's license in 1963, and two years later purchased a Mooney, a single-engine airplane. He logged in over 4,000 hours as an instrument-rated pilot and enjoyed flying across the country for pleasure and business.

He was also a woodworker and enjoyed writing short stories.

After retiring in 1989, he moved to Jackson Hole, Wyo., where he lived until moving in 1996 to South Burlington, Vt.

His wife of 32 years, the former Barbara Joy Bogue, died in 1977.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

Also surviving are his wife of 31 years, the former Helen Sharpe; another daughter, Sherry Miles of Kingsville; and several nieces and nephews.

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