Edwin L. Kess, a retired labor relations director who was active in his church, died May 22 of cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Columbia. He was 86.
"Edwin was strong-willed and wanted to succeed. He wanted to succeed in whatever he tried to do," said a brother, the Rev. Leon Kess Jr., retired pastor of Queen's Chapel United Methodist Church in Beltsville.
The son of a U.S. Custom House worker and a cafeteria employee, Edwin Leroy Kess was born and raised in Fairfield.
After graduating from Frederick Douglass High School in 1944, Mr. Kess enlisted in the Army and at the end of World War II, returned to Baltimore.
"Returning home to a troubled and still-segregated country, he chose not to be deterred but, rather, determined to find the route to success, and he did," said his wife of 38 years, the former Beatrice "Bea" Dorsey, who retired from the Social Security Administration, where she had been supervisor of the program analysts.
While working to support his family, he attended what is now Morgan State University at night, where he was a dean's list student. He had been a founding member of the Cross Keys Fraternity, an organization for evening students.
Mr. Kess began his federal career in the late 1940s working as an entry-level clerk at Fort Holabird, and he rose to become the first African-American personnel specialist at the Dundalk military installation.
"As the first black male personnel specialist ... he ensured that many qualified black professionals were hired in order that they too might succeed," said Mrs. Kess.
Mr. Kess later became director of labor relations for the Department of Health Care Finance in Washington, where he worked until retiring in the early 1980s.
A Columbia resident since 1971, Mr. Kess was a longtime member of Queen's Chapel United Methodist Church, where his baritone voice enriched the Male Chorus. He was also active in the church's Tape Ministry and United Methodist Men.
"He'd tape rehearsals of the Male Chorus so they could get their parts right," his brother said. "He also taped Sunday services. He did that every Sunday."
Mr. Kess also said that his brother "accompanied me on visitations, conducted teaching workshops and was active in Bible study."
He said that Mr. Kess played a pivotal role in the church's long-range planning group. Other activities included the scholarship program and a program that helped the needy pay rent and utility bills.
Mr. Kess also manned the church's prayer line phones and gave a willing ear to those who needed comfort, prayer or just someone to talk to.
"He had been very, very active in our church," his brother said.
"He gave of his tithes, time and talent," said Mrs. Kess. "Ed truly loved Queen's Chapel Church."
The couple also opened their home to and financially supported young people, elderly family members and friends who needed assistance or a place to stay.
"Until they were able to stand alone," said Mrs. Kess.
A basketball fan, he had served as president of the local chapter of the Columbia Old Timers Basketball League and was vice president of the organization's national chapter.
Mr. Kess was an avid duckpin and tenpin bowler. He had a large library of recordings of opera, jazz, classical, oldies and gospel music.
"His musical tastes ranged from the Ink Spots to Luciano Pavarotti," said his wife.
In addition to collecting records, Mr. Kess also amassed a large library of classic Hollywood films, including Westerns, which were his favorite, his wife said.
"He loved to read and had a large collection of Zane Grey books," said Mrs. Kess.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at his church, 7410 Old Muirkirk Road, Beltsville.
In addition to his wife and brother, who lives in Glen Burnie, Mr. Kess is survived by a son, Alan Kess of Costa Mesa, Calif.; a daughter, Lita Gibson of Columbia; another brother, Roland Kess of Columbia; two sisters, Lillie K. Frazier and Lois K. Sheppard, both of Columbia; and two grandchildren. An earlier marriage to Parthenia Kess ended in divorce.