John James Lambros

Bethlehem Steel shipbuilding executive was wounded while a PT boat commander in the Pacific during World War II

February 24, 2011|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

John James Lambros, a retired Bethlehem Steel shipbuilding executive and decorated World War II veteran, died of a hemorrhage Monday at the Maples of Towson. He was 95 and lived in Ruxton.

"He was the No. 1 salesman for the Bethlehem Steel Key Highway Shipyard," said former U.S. Maritime Commissioner Helen Delich Bentley, who also served in Congress. "It was through his influence with many Greek shipowners that Baltimore received so much of the ship construction and repair work."

She recalled his friendship with Aristotle Onassis, who placed a 1948 order with Bethlehem for a 28,000-ton supertanker.

"John understood the dynamics of competition and the dynamics of ship repair," she said. "He was a generous person and was always willing to help."

Born in Baltimore and raised in Fells Point, he was the son of James Lambros, who owned a coffee shop patronized by Greek sailors who called at the port of Baltimore. His family had emigrated from the Greek island of Andros, the home of numerous shipowners, and he used those connections throughout his career.

Mr. Lambros attended Hampstead Hill Junior High School and was a 1934 graduate of Polytechnic Institute, where he played basketball, baseball, football and boxed.

"Years ago, we would play until the last light died out of the day, until we couldn't see the ball anymore," he told a News American reporter in 1980. "When a game ended, I always wanted to know why we couldn't play some more. And when one sport ended for the season, I would be out the next day playing another sport."

Mr. Lambros wanted to go to the Naval Academy.

"My parents were seafaring people and, naturally, I always had an interest in it," he said in 1980.

When he could not get a senatorial appointment, he earned a degree from St. John's College in Annapolis, where he also played sports. He was inducted into the Maryland Sports Hall of Fame in 1975.

While he was a senior at St. John's, a scout for the International League Orioles offered him a contract to report to the club's Johnstown, Pa., team. He would get $30 a week.

He turned down the offer and sought more dependable employment with a Bethlehem Steel shipbuilding job. He remained with the firm for more than four decades.

He enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and was sent to midshipmen's school at Columbia University to become a commander of a PT boat. He was assigned to PT-183 in the Pacific. While there, he met future President John F. Kennedy, commander of PT-109.

"He was a skinny guy, real funny, always pleasant," Mr. Lambros recalled in the 1980s interview. The two played volleyball together.

Mr. Lambros knew how to tell a joke. Family members said he told a new joke every night for 168 consecutive nights to an audience that assembled outside his tent.

On a nighttime mission, Mr. Lambros was out in his boat when a Japanese shell exploded nearby. Shrapnel lodged in his chest near his lungs. He spent months recuperating in hospitals in Guadalcanal and New Zealand. He received a Purple Heart and spent the rest of the war teaching at Columbia.

He returned to Bethlehem's shipbuilding operation and served in its New York office and its Hoboken, N.J., yard in the early 1960s.

Family members said that Mr. Lambros generated business for Beth Steel from Greek shipowners including Onassis and Stavros Niarchos. He remained a friend of both their families.

In a 1975 Baltimore Sun article, he recalled an Onassis visit to Baltimore. At the end of the business day, the Bethlehem chauffeur took Mr. Onassis to the airport. His private plane was late and Mr. Onassis treated them to ice cream cones. They sat on a curb. He also visited Onassis aboard his yacht in the Kiel shipyards in Germany.

Mr. Lambros retired as assistant to the general manager of the steel company's shipbuilding division. He was also a past official of the Propeller Club.

He remained interested in sports and played with the Baltimore Lacrosse Club. He later attended his grandchildren's lacrosse games.

Mr. Lambros will lie in repose from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Thursday at the Chapel of the Resurrection at the Greek Orthodox Cemetery, 5917 Windsor Mill Road. Services will be held there at 11 a.m. He was a member of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation.

Survivors include his wife of 15 years, the former Antoinette Paterakis; a daughter, Valerie Lambros Heneberry of Lutherville; a brother, George Lambros of Aberdeen; two sisters, Helen Filipidis and Adrienne Houzouris, both of Bel Air; four stepsons, Bill Paterakis, Steve Paterakis, Chuck Paterakis and John Paterakis Jr., all of Baltimore; two stepdaughters, Vanessa Paterakis Smith and Karen Paterakis Philippou, both of Baltimore; three grandchildren; 20 step-grandchildren; and a great-grandson. His wife of 50 years, Mary George Lambros, died in 1992.

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