Ronald T. Leaverton, former WBAL-TV reporter, dies

He became a well-known voiceover artist and founded a video production company

  • Ronald T. Leaverton
Ronald T. Leaverton
November 09, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Ronald Thomas Leaverton, a former reporter for WBAL-TV who later became a well-known voiceover artist and a co-founder of a Timonium video production company, died Thursday of a heart attack at his Hunt Valley home.

Mr. Leaverton was 64.

Mr. Leaverton, the son of a Baltimore Department of Public Works engineer and a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Howard Park.

"He always knew he wanted to be in radio," said his wife of 16 years, the former Patricia "Patty" Wise.

When he was 15 years old, Mr. Leaverton invested money he had saved from cutting lawns and purchased sound equipment that he set up for record hops that were hosted by the legendary WACO disc jockey Johnny Dark.

"I first met Ron when I came to Baltimore in 1961. He was working for a guy setting up sound systems to be used by disc jockeys at dances. The guy had a penchant for getting there at 7:55 for an 8 o'clock dance," Mr. Dark recalled Tuesday.

"Ron said to me, 'If I get my own rig, can I do your dances?' I said, 'Why not?'" Mr. Dark said. "For the next several years, we played every American Legion, VFW post, middle school and high school on both the western and eastern side of the Shore."

After graduating in 1963 from Forest Park High School, Mr. Leaverton studied for a year at what was then Baltimore Junior College before enlisting in the Army.

Stationed at Fort Knox, Ky., Mr. Leaverton moonlighted as a disc jockey at radio station WSAC. When he was discharged in 1967, he remained in broadcasting, working at stations in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland.

He was working at WVEC-TV in Norfolk, Va., when he joined WBAL-TV as a reporter in 1978.

"Ron had charisma, strength of personality, and certainly a gift for gab. He was not one for flowery language and was very energetic and fearless," said Mark McGrath, a former WBAL-TV photographer who since 1992 has been a Baltimore financial adviser.

"He was the type who would say, 'We have a half-hour to get to City Hall and get it in the can.' He wasn't one to sit around," Mr. McGrath said.

After leaving WBAL in 1986, Mr. Leaverton worked as a freelance voiceover artist and managed Disc Jockey Enterprises Inc., a Hunt Valley business he had established in 1979 that furnishes disc jockeys for wedding receptions and other events in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Mr. Leaverton still owned and operated the business at his death.

"He left TV broadcasting because he felt news was becoming more entertainment, slanted and wasn't as serious as it formerly had been," said T. Crain Houston, who with Mr. Leaverton founded Studio 83 Productions Inc., a Timonium radio and TV commercial production company, in 1994.

"Ron was the kind of guy who could suck the air out of a room because of his personality. He was colorful, humorous and boisterous," Mr. Houston said. "Many of our ad agencies went to him for creative advice. He was dynamic and had an innate sense of how to create a spot for a client.

"He was a bigger-than-life person who always ran flat out and had more energy, humor and creative energy than anyone I've known," Mr. Houston said. "He enjoyed life and was one of those Energizer Bunnies that you thought would never die."

Mr. Leaverton had a direct creative role in one of the firm's most celebrated TV ads, for Bill's Carpet Fair, which featured the company's founder, the late Mark Helman, as the straight man and business associate Rubin Schlechman as his foil.

"I loved dealing with him. We had the best time when we did it. It wasn't work, it was like going on a vacation," Mr. Schlechman said.

"We wrote the spots together and I have to say a lot of the stuff had to be censored, especially Ron's stuff," Mr. Schlechman said, laughing. "He was a really good guy and as hyper as could be, and the only time I sometime disagreed with him was over the bill."

"Bill's Carpet Fair came to Ron early on when we started the business. The idea was kind of a pie-in-the-face deal," Mr. Houston said. "After the first ad ran, they doubled their business in a week."

"Ron really cared about people and he leaves a phenomenal legacy," Mr. Dark said. "He had to let go two alcoholics and he told them once they got clean, he'd hire them back, and he did."

Mr. Leaverton was an avid vegetable gardener and enjoyed preparing gourmet meals.

"Growing up with my father was a little crazy and lots of fun and adventurous," said his daughter, Jennifer Leaverton Greaser of Laurel. "He loved the beach at Ocean City and fishing on the Chesapeake Bay. In recent years, he enjoyed spending summers at Emerald Isle, N.C."

Mr. Leaverton's first marriage, to the former Mary Ellen Nichols, ended in divorce. His wife of 15 years, the former Mary Frances "Mary Fran" Briggs, died in 1994.

Services for Mr. Leaverton were Saturday.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Leaverton is survived by a son, Gary H. Leaverton of Baltimore; two stepsons, Aaron Wise and Ethan Wise, both of Cockeysville; two sisters, Nancy Lee Leaverton of Baltimore and Peggy Yacovissi of Wellsboro, Pa.; and two grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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