John G. Schisler, longtime C&P spokesman

Telephone company official served on various boards

  • John G Schisler, shown in 1978
John G Schisler, shown in 1978 (BALTIMORE SUN )
September 20, 2014|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | The Baltimore Sun

John G. Schisler, the longtime spokesman and director of public relations for the old Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., died Sept. 12 at the Blakehurst retirement community in Towson of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. He was 85.

"Through and through, it was C&P and what was best for the community," said Betsy Nelson, who retired in 2012 as president of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers. "He was diligent and a pragmatist, but had a heart of gold."

The son of J. Harry Schisler, executive vice president of the Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Maryland, and Mildred Hawkins Schisler, a homemaker, John Gardner Schisler was born in Baltimore and raised in Cedarcroft.

He graduated in 1947 from City College and enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University, from which he earned a bachelor's degree in 1951.

After graduating from Johns Hopkins, Mr. Schisler enlisted in the Army and served with an anti-aircraft battery in Alaska until being discharged in 1953.

He began his nearly four-decade career with C&P in 1953 as a management trainee in the utility's financial department.

From 1963 to 1966, Mr. Schisler lived in Ridgewood, N.J., when he worked in American Telephone & Telegraph Co.'s national advertising department in New York. There, he was responsible for advertising on the "The Bell Telephone Hour" and was liaison between NBC and N.W. Ayer, the show's advertising agency.

Mr. Schisler later returned to Baltimore, where he was C&P's director of public relations and spokesman from 1968 until 1989, when he retired.

His other duties included responsibility for the company's corporate contributions budget to local organizations and coordinating the AT&T annual meeting held here in 1982.

In his role as C&P spokesman, Mr. Schisler was responsible for explaining to the media rate increases and proposed rate increases, weather events and new technology.

He recalled one public affairs issue in 1972, when complaints reached C&P regarding a caller with an English accent making harassing phone calls to women. "It's amazing what people will listen to before hanging up," Mr. Schisler told The Baltimore Sun. "We have had testimony in court cases from women who admit to listening to obscenities for 30 to 45 minutes before hanging up the phone."

He spoke of other such issues during his tenure, including the public flap in 1974 when dime pay phone calls were to rise to 20 cents.

"All of the components of the call cost more," he told The Sun at the time, explaining that the increased cost of phone booths, operator salaries and other factors forced the price increase.

When C&P employees protested a proposed dress code in 1982, Mr. Schisler explained to The Sun, "We have said our employees should be dressed in a manner consistent with contemporary style or dress of people in the same kinds of occupations in companies of the same scope and size as ours."

"He was very confident and good at what he did," said Joyce Sauter, who was Mr. Schisler's secretary from 1971 to 1989.

"He was wonderful to work for, and I knew how to read him. He was a very caring and fair man who knew his people personally," said Ms. Sauter, who is now human relations coordinator at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Regarding his duties overseeing corporate contributions, "He really enjoyed this part of his job," Ms. Sauter said. "He enjoyed getting involved with organizations and seeing to their needs."

Mr. Schisler served on many boards, including Planned Parenthood of Maryland during the 1970s and the Lyric Opera House during the 1990s.

In 1968, he was elected to the board of what was then the Baltimore League for Crippled Children, now the League for People with Disabilities. In 1972, he was appointed assistant treasurer of the board and was elected in 1978 to a four-year term as president.

He had also been a member of the board of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, where he chaired the membership committee during the 1980s.

"He was a savvy businessman, but always had a twinkle in his eye, and he knew the way of the world," said Ms. Nelson, who spent two decades at the association. "He was one of a kind, and definitely old-school ... from a time when major corporations ruled Baltimore."

Mr. Schisler also served on the board of Maryland General Hospital and the Baltimore Regional Burn Center, and served as both president and as a board member of the American Visionary Art Museum from 1989 until 2009.

A longtime resident of Wiltondale, Mr. Schisler was a railroad enthusiast. He was a member of the Baltimore chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, the Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad Historical Society and Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, a narrow-gauge railroad that operates between Chama, N.M., and Antonito, Colo.

He also built and operated a large O-gauge and HO-gauge railroad in the basement of his Coventry Road home.

"It was based on the B&O and Western Maryland Railway," said his son, J. Craig Schisler of Ledgewood, N.J.

A resident of Blakehurst since 2006, he was a member of Grace United Methodist Church.

His wife of 52 years, the former Ann Emmart, died in 2004.

A memorial service was held Saturday at the Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home in Rodgers Forge.

In addition to his son, Mr. Schisler is survived by three grandchildren. Another son, Mark E. Schisler, died in 2008.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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