William H. Shearin Sr., a World War II veteran who had been financial manager and comptroller at Edgewood Arsenal for many years and was a founder of the Arc of Baltimore, died Jan. 22 of pneumonia at St. Joseph Medical Center.
The longtime Towson resident was 89.
Mr. Shearin, the son of a coal mine superintendent and a homemaker, was born in Uniontown, Pa.
He was raised in Point Marion, Pa., where his father headed the Davidson Connellsville Coal & Coke Co. mine.
Beginning in high school, Mr. Shearin worked as a grocery store janitor and laborer in the coal mines, where he was paid 621/2 cents a ton for the coal he loaded into mine cars.
Also during summers, he played third base for the Davidson baseball team, which played other coal company teams.
After graduation from Point Marion High School, he enrolled at West Virginia Business College in Morgantown, from which he graduated in 1939.
He went to work as an accountant for a Morgantown construction company, and then in 1940 joined the chemical warfare research and development division at Edgewood Arsenal.
Drafted into the Army in 1942, Mr. Shearin attended officers candidate school and was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Chemical Warfare Service.
In 1943, he was sent overseas and served in North Africa. His primary wartime duty was in chemical smoke obscuration operations, which protected troops landing on beaches from enemy fire.
In an unpublished memoir, Mr. Shearin recalled being an eyewitness to an encounter with the fabled commander Gen. George S. Patton Jr.
The driver of the 21/2-ton truck in which Mr. Shearin was riding made a wrong turn, and the truck stalled while turning around.
Suddenly, General Patton arrived, standing in his command car and accompanied by two jeeps and three motorcycles, all with wailing sirens and flashing red lights. They approached at high speed and then ground to a halt, as the truck's driver continued to try and coax the stalled motor back to life.
"He was dressed in an unconventional green coat with 'Army pink' breeches, shiny leather boots and had stars on his helmet, both sides of his shirt collar, and on his shoulder epaulets. He was a sight to behold," wrote Mr. Shearin in the memoir.
"He yelled at the top of his loud voice, 'Get out of the damn truck.' ... He continued to yell for several minutes using the most colorful language imaginable," he wrote.
"His trembling aide took the name of our officer and the entourage drove around the stalled truck and continued. We were so overcome that it took us several minutes to recover," he wrote. "All the time, I was in the back of the truck trying to be invisible."
After landing at Anzio, Mr. Shearin, who spent 36 months overseas, fought in Italy, France, Germany and Austria.
When the war ended in 1945, he was captain and company commander of the 25th Chemical Company. He remained an active reservist and retired in 1980 as commander of the 1516 Mobilization Detachment. After the war, Mr. Shearin returned to Edgewood Arsenal, where he was financial manager and comptroller until retiring in 1980.
In 1947, Mr. Shearin married Elizabeth Louise "Betty" Einig, and a year later, they settled in Towson.
Because he had a special-needs son and had a friend whose daughter had been born with Down syndrome, Mr. Shearin became interested in issues affecting those who were physically and mentally disabled.
"Dad's son Jim was born with heart problems and suffered from brain damage, which caused retardation," said Kathy Shearin, a daughter-in-law. "There was not much in place in those days for rights for retarded children."
Mr. Shearin joined with seven others in 1950 to help establish the Maryland Society for Mentally Retarded Children Inc., which was renamed Baltimore Association for Retarded Children Inc. in 1974.
In 1975, the organization, which helps people with developmental disabilities through vocational training, employment opportunities, independent living, and recreational and leisure activities, changed its name to the Baltimore Association for Retarded Citizens Inc.
Since 2002, it has been known as The Arc of Baltimore Inc.
"In the 1940s and 1950s, there were no services for people who were then called 'mentally retarded.' Those were the words they used in those days," said Jerry Bullinger, assistant executive director of The Arc of Baltimore.
"They couldn't go to school, and there were no programs available to them. What many families did was send them to institutions like the now-closed Rosewood, where they essentially were allowed to rot," he said.
"It was because of Bill Shearin and the others who weren't willing to do that, that they started the Maryland Society for [Mentally] Retarded Children. They started up programs for people with disabilities so they could get into mainstream society, hold jobs, vote and live independently," he said.
"He had the foresight and saw the need to do something. Bill Shearin was part of the root of the whole movement here in Baltimore, which is one of the largest Arc programs for the developmentally disabled in the nation," Mr. Bullinger said.
Mr. Shearin enjoyed spending time at a second home at Cheat Lake near Morgantown.
He was also an accomplished woodworker.
He was a communicant of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Towson, where a Mass of Christian burial was offered Tuesday.
In addition to his wife of 62 years, Mr. Shearin is survived by three sons, William H. Shearin Jr. of Hagerstown, Thomas J. Shearin of Monkton and James C. Shearin of Towson; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.