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Gideon N. Stieff Jr., former head of retail for the old Kirk-Stieff Co., dies

Gideon N. Stieff Jr., former vice president of the retail division of the old Kirk-Stieff Co., a silversmith firm with roots dating back to the 1800s, died Wednesday from cancer at his home at Roland Park Place. He was 88.

Mr. Stieff was the last member of his family working in the Baltimore silver and pewter manufacturing company, which had been established by his grandfather, Charles C. Stieff, in 1892.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Ridgewood Road in Roland Park, Gideon Numsen Stieff Jr. was the son of Gideon Numsen Stieff Sr., president of the Stieff Co., and Claire von Marees Stieff, a homemaker.

After graduating in 1948 from the McDonogh School in Owings Mills, he received a bachelor’s degree in 1952 from Washington & Lee University, where he was a member of Sigma Nu fraternity.

“Even though he had never picked up a lacrosse stick, he was recruited to play lacrosse simply because he was from Baltimore — a lacrosse mecca,” a daughter, Elizabeth S. “Betsy” Stein, of Catonsville, wrote in a biographical profile of her father.

“Gideon was an incredibly warm and good person who was very loyal to the school,” said Charles W. “Charlie” Britton, a Canton resident who recently retired as headmaster at the McDonogh School. “He was always so kind to me.”

”At reunions, the Class of 1948, of which Gideon was a member, really turned out. They had a special spirit like Gideon,” said Mr. Britton.

Mr. Stieff served in the Army during the Korean War.

“His claim to fame was getting his photo taken with Marilyn Monroe, who was on a USO tour,” Ms. Stein wrote. After being discharged, he joined the family business and was in charge of its retail division.

”He was a true gentleman, very fair and understanding, and was well-liked by the employees,” said James W. Stieff, a nephew and former vice president of the company’s corporate and special markets. He said his uncle “helped build the retail business and expand the retail stores. He was an honest and hardworking guy.”

In 1979, the company made an historic acquisition when it purchased Samuel Kirk & Sons, which had been founded in Baltimore in 1815.

As interest in sterling silver flatware waned, the operation turned to making additional products and developing new markets. For years, the company manufactured a replica of the famed Woodlawn Vase; the original, produced by Tiffany & Co. in 1860, is now in the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art for the winner of the Preakness Stakes.

Kirk-Stieff’s main store was on Howard Street, with additional stores on York Road near Walker Avenue, Westview Shopping Center and the Timonium Mall. There was also a retail store at the company’s Wyman Park Drive plant in Hampden, with its 1920s-era outdoor electric sign overlooking the Jones Falls Expressway.

After the retail stores closed, Mr. Stieff helped launch a gold jewelry line, which he marketed across the country.

“I was one of the three jewelry designers,” recalled Betty Cooke, a Riderwood resident and jewelry designer who, with her husband and business partner Bill Steinmetz, established The Store Ltd. at the Village of Cross Keys in 1965.

“The company made them and they were sold all over the country. Gideon had high hopes for it. It was successful but after a while, because the price of metal was high, it was something they did not want to keep going,” she said.

“Gideon was in love with what he was doing and brought great enthusiasm to it,” she said. “He was a kind, easygoing gentleman who was always interesting.”

In 1990, Kirk-Stieff, whose stock was privately held, was sold to Lenox Inc., a unit of the Louisville, Ky.-based Brown-Forman Corp., and Mr. Stieff retired.

Lenox Inc. announced in 1999 that was closing the landmark Hampden plant and consolidating operations at its plant in Smithfield, R.I.

In addition to his career, Mr. Stieff served on the board of Harbor Federal Savings and Loan for years and had been president of the March of Dimes.

A former longtime resident of Bellemore Road in North Roland Park, he was a supporter of the arts. He was an opera fan and had been a member of the board of the old Baltimore Opera Co. He was also a supporter of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which he regularly attended as a season ticket holder.

Until he was no longer able to drive, Mr. Stieff volunteered for 25 years at the Baltimore Visitors Center in the Inner Harbor. He stepped down last year. He was also skilled in needlepoint and enjoyed stitching pillows, bell pulls and seats for rocking chairs for his grandchildren.

Since his youth he had collected autographs; his collection contained a letter signed by Abraham Lincoln.

He was a member of the Baltimore Country Club, Hopkins Club, Princeton Club of New York City and the Kiwanis Club.

Mr. Stieff enjoyed spending summers at a second home in Weekapaug, R.I., where he played tennis and enjoyed sailing.

His wife of 55 years, the former Anne Boggs, died in June.

He was a longtime communicant of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Roland Park, where he had been an usher all of his adult life. The Rev. William M. Krulak, who was pastor of St. David’s from 1999 until retiring in 2007, was an old friend.

Mr. Stieff “felt very much a part of St. David’s since he was baptized as an infant 88 years ago,” said Father Krulak,an Otterbein resident. “I think he was the longest living member of the church.

“Gideon was very active in the church and very loyal, plus, he was just the consummate gentleman in every sense of the word,” he said. “He was a very kind and a great family man. His late wife was a Roman Catholic, and they shared their worship experiences. He would attend her church and she would come to his.”

Plans for a memorial service to be held at his church are incomplete.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Stieff is survived by another daughter, Katherine S. “Kathy” Gaines of Lutherville; and seven grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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