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Chester Duke, life insurance agent and philanthropist

Chester A. Duke Jr., a retired life insurance agent and estate planner who was also a philanthropist, died of cardiopulmonary arrest March 23 at the Maryland Masonic Home in Hunt Valley. He was 93 and had lived in the Wakefield section of Timonium.

Born and raised in Front Royal, Va., he was the son of Chester A. Duke Sr., a postmaster and general store owner, and Katherine Disch.

"As a child of the Depression, he was determined to become a successful self-made man," said a daughter, Lisa A. Duke of Timonium.

He was a 1943 graduate of Warren County High School, where he was quarterback on the football team, center on the basketball team and center fielder on the baseball team. In the summer he was a Skyline Caverns guide.

He enlisted in the Navy and was stationed in Maine at Schoodic Point. He worked in a signals intelligence and cryptanalysis group which intercepted, deciphered and analyzed German navy traffic in the North Atlantic.

After the war, he earned a business administration degree at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, where he belonged to the Alpha Kappa Psi fraternity.

He moved to Baltimore in 1950 and met his future wife, Dorothy Hammer, a Robert Garrett & Sons bookkeeper, at the Baltimore Ski Club. Their first date was at a Baltimore Colts game, and Mr. Duke arranged their honeymoon plans in the Caribbean so he and his wife could return to Baltimore to attend a Colts game, family members said.

In 1953 he joined the New York Life Insurance Company and was a 1959 graduate of the American College of Life Underwriters. He became a chartered life underwriter and won many sales awards during his career of more than 60 years. He was Agent of the Year in the Baltimore area on many occasions and was a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Round Table. He was also an estate planner.

"My father was constantly learning, educating and bettering himself," said his daughter. "He was a very dedicated and driven individual whose work ethic was unparalleled. ... After a blizzard in the 1960s, my father gunned his Cadillac through 2-3 feet of drifting snow in our front yard just to get into the office."

His daughter said her father had more than 3,000 clients during his career.

"Many of these people became close friends," she said. "His business trademark was a rep stripe bow tie. He never wore long ties."

A New York Life colleague, Milton A. Dugger Jr., recalled Mr. Duke as "full of purpose. You might call him a driven man or describe him as a workaholic. He was a product of the Depression; he helped his clients to save and plan. He was a regimented fellow, and as an athlete, discipline wasn't foreign to him."

He and his wife traveled widely overseas and in the U.S. They also spent summers in a log cabin at Mooselookmeguntic Lake in the Rangeley Lakes region in Maine. His daughter said her father have loved Maine since his time there in the Navy.

He was an active alumnus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and belonged to the President's Council. He was a football and basketball fan and often sat in the athletic director's box at Lane Stadium. He was a member of the Old Guard Class of 1950 that supported Virginia Tech Athletics.

He established the Chet and Dorothy Duke Athletic Scholarship and also contributed to the Pamplin School of Business, the College of Science and the Department of Math.

Mr. Duke was also a Baltimore Colts, Ravens and Orioles fan. Quarterback Johnny Unitas was a particular favorite, and Mr. Duke bought season tickets at Memorial Stadium on the 50-yard-line, row 19.

He was also a donor to the Baltimore Community Foundation. He established two charitable funds, including an endowment for the ARC of Baltimore.

"In terms of intent, Chet was full of philanthropic good will. He was a larger-than-life personality, and he was very generous," said Thomas E. Wilcox, president of the Baltimore Community Foundation. "He was a proponent of using insurance policies as long-term charitable gifts."

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. April 29 at Epiphany Episcopal Church, 2216 Pot Spring Road in Timonium, where he was a member.

Survivors include another daughter, Sherrie L. Duke of Timonium; and a longtime friend, Nancy E. Ward, also of Timonium. His wife of 53 years died in 2010.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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