Les Kinion

Les Kinion (Bo Rader 1986, BALTIMORE SUN)

Charnie L. "Les" Kinion Jr., a city firefighter who founded the Baltimore Road Runners Club and the Maryland Marathon, died July 23 of a heart attack in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was 78.

"The Maryland Marathon was Les' baby. He did a lot of the work and knew how to get races organized," said John Roemer, a friend for more than 40 years.

"People liked him and he was the best face the Maryland Marathon ever had," said Mr. Roemer, who lives near Parkton. "It attracted some of the best runners in the world."

Mr. Kinion was visiting friends in Brooklyn when stricken and was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, N.Y., where he died.

"I first got to meet Les in 1979 when I ran the old Maryland Marathon, which started at Memorial Stadium and went to Peerce's Plantation in Baltimore County, where we turned around," said Mike Reeb, a retired Baltimore Sun sports copy editor who was also the newspaper's running columnist.

"He was a great guy who took an interest in you whether you were a world-class runner or out there for the first time," said Mr. Reeb, who lives in Glen Rock, Pa. "And he could spin great tales about running and firefighting."

The son of Charnie L. Kinion Sr., an American Can Co. manager, and Catherine "Kitty" Kinion, a homemaker, Charnie Leslie Kinion Jr. was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and moved with his family to Hamilton in 1952.

Mr. Kinion, who never used his first name, attended Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School and later earned his General Education Development diploma.

He joined the Baltimore Fire Department in 1958, and spent his entire career as a firefighter assigned to Engine 43 at York Road and Bellona Avenue in Govans. He retired in 1986.

Mr. Kinion began running in the late 1960s. In a 1984 article in The Sun, he recalled his first race at Patterson Park.

"I got there too late for the two-mile, so I had to run the one-mile," he said. "I remember five kids beat me, about 15 or 16 years old."

He then began running the Run for Your Life, a two-mile race held at the Towson YMCA.

"I started doing those because they gave out little trophies," he said. "Then I got Ken Cooper's book, 'Aerobics,' and got into long distance."

In 1970, he ran the Boston Marathon, which he completed. Afterward, Mr. Kinion co-founded the Baltimore Road Runners Club out of the trunk of his car with Joe Holland. Mr. Kinion was the first president of the club.

"We came back. We sat down with the Maryland Commission on Physical Fitness. It just sort of got laid down for a while," Mr. Kinion told The Sun in a 2004 interview. "The next year when we went back to Boston, we started talking about it again. It was a three-year deal before it got going."

Joining with Hy Levasseur, executive director of the Maryland Commission on Physical Fitness, the trio established the Maryland Marathon, which was first run in 1973.

The first race drew a field of 482, which at the time was a record for a first-time marathon. The next year's field ballooned to 797.

In 1974, the race attracted British Olympian Ron Hill, who won. Two years later, Bill Rodgers, a U.S. Olympian and four-time winner of both the New York and Boston marathons, went on to win the Maryland Marathon with a time of 2 hours, 14 minutes, 23 seconds.

"When Hill and Rodgers came to run in the race, it was Les who put them up at his home," Mr. Roemer said.

"The race also broke ground in the recruitment of an elite women's field, 11 years before the women's marathon was established as an Olympic event," The Sun reported in 2004.