Gary "Gay" Black Jr.

Gary "Gay" Black Jr., chairman of the Abell Foundation and former vice president of sales and marketing for the old A.S. Abell Co., publishers of the Baltimore Sunpapers, died Feb. 25 of melanoma at his home in Sun Valley, Idaho.

He was 75.

"He was one of the last courtly gentlemen at The Sun," John D. Worthington IV, former publisher of The Aegis in Harford County and a longtime friend, wrote in an email.

"Part of our friendship was based on family ownership of newspapers. I was a fourth-generation employee, and Gay and I would often talk about the pleasure and perils of working for your family," he wrote. "What we learned was although there was a huge difference in the size of our operations, we both faced many of the same issues.

"Despite being born to great wealth and privilege, Gay was one of the most down-to-earth people you would meet. It's one of the qualities I admired most," Mr. Worthington wrote.

"Gay was a very friendly guy, personable and likeable," said Ernest F. Imhoff, a former longtime editor for The Evening Sun and The Sun.

The son of Gary Black Sr., chairman of the board of the A.S. Abell Co., and Catharine Bond Jackson, a sportswoman and volunteer, Gary Black Jr., who was known as Gay, was born in Baltimore and raised in Stevenson.

He was the grandson of Van Lear Black, who had been chairman of the board and an owner of the A.S. Abell Co.

He attended Gilman School and graduated from Avon Old Farms School in Avon, Conn. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1964 from the University of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Black began working in 1965 at The Baltimore Sun as a police reporter. He left to work as a bond underwriter for the Fidelity & Deposit Co. in San Francisco from 1968 to 1969, then returned to Baltimore and resumed his career with the A.S. Abell Co.

He held positions in the circulation department, as assistant to the publisher, and in 1979 was named director of sales and marketing and communications.

In that position, Mr. Black was responsible for advertising and circulation sales, distribution and marketing of The Sun, The Evening Sun and The Sunday Sun.

"I worked for him for several years, and after he left, we remained good friends," said Ann T. Gallant, who later was director of sales and marketing from 1982 to 1991.

"I was always struck by how genuine he was as an owner and the way he treated people. He always had a smile for everyone," she said. "He was a good listener and I always appreciated that." She said he provided opportunities to women trying to climb the corporate ladder. "He knew it was the right thing to do."

"Gay had more than just an operational interest in the paper," said Richard M. Basoco, former Sunpapers general manger, who is now chief of operations and executive editor of Baltimore Magazine. "He was able to influence events and worked hard to create a more diverse workforce, and that was an important thing."

In 1983, Mr. Black was named a vice president and a director of the A.S. Abell Co., the A.S. Abell Publishing Co. and Abell Communications by then-publisher Reg Murphy and William E. McGuirk Jr., who was chairman of the planning and organization committee of the A.S. Abell Co.

Mr. Black's new responsibilities included company-wide diversification into new market areas and identifying publication opportunities, as well as remaining an assistant to the publisher.

"He wanted to change the culture of the paper that was still doing things the way they had in the 1940s and 1950s, and that change began in sales and marketing," Mr. Basoco said. "And it was a very significant factor in moving the company forward."

"Gay was the perfect example of that old saying that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Like his father, Gay was charming, had a great sense of humor and, above all else, loved The Sun," Mr. Worthington wrote. "He held it as a public trust, and was extremely proud of the newspaper."

In addition to his work with the A.S. Abell Co., Mr. Black was an outdoorsman and an expert skier, backpacker and climber.

In 1984, he purchased Ski Racing International magazine and relocated to Waitsfield, Vt., where he began a second career as the "premier voice of snow sport competition," said a daughter, Amanda Rising Black of Sun Valley.

Mr. Black moved to Sun Valley in 1995 and sold the magazine in 2003 to Inside Communications.

He reacquired the publication in 2006 with three partners, and since then had worked as CEO and managing partner of the website and accompanying mobile application.

He was a member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Foundation and International Ski Federation and served on its public relations and media committees, as well as the World Cup Committee. He also served on the board of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and was instrumental in the initiation of the Sun Valley Ski Academy.

At the time of his death, he was chairman of the board of the Abell Foundation, a position he assumed after the death of his father in 1987.

"He has been our chairman for 30 years, the whole time I've been here, and he was always very supportive. He had a great deal of affection for our staff," said foundation president Robert C. Embry Jr. "He was very committed to the city and empathetic. His death is a tremendous loss."

Mr. Black also had served on the boards of the Maryland Historical Society and Bryn Mawr School.

Plans for memorial tributes to be held in Stowe, Vt., and Sun Valley are incomplete.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Black is survived by his wife of 25 years, the former Heather Freeman; two other daughters, Serena Black Martin of Stevenson and Alexandra Kathleen Black of Sun Valley; a sister, Catharine Wilder Peterson of Lexington, Ky.; and three grandchildren. Earlier marriages to Amanda Bradley "Mandy" Savage and Jacqueline Russell ended in divorce.

frasmussen@baltsun.com

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