James P. Klima Jr., former Bethlehem Steel executive who later became a judge, dies

James Patrick Klima Jr., a retired Bethlehem Steel manager who became an administrative law judge, died of multiple organ failure June 16 at the Mercy Ridge Retirement Community in Timonium.

He was 85 and had lived in Lutherville for many years.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Northwood, he was the son of James P. Klima, a Bethlehem Steel shipbuilding chief engineer, and his wife, Mary Josephine Brusack, a homemaker.

He attended Blessed Sacrament School and was a 1950 graduate of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.

He obtained a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a second degree, a bachelor of arts, from Lehigh University, where he belonged to the Reserve Officers Training Corps and the Phi Sigma Kappa Fraternity. He served in the Army as a first lieutenant.

He also was a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law.

“He had a great dry sense of humor. He loved to laugh and catch you in a mistake — then laugh about it,” said a college friend, Donald Kirkpatrick of Naples, Fla. “He was a brilliant guy. He was a thinking man and when a problem came along, he would consider it for a while and then come up with an answer.”

Mr. Klima joined the Bethlehem Steel Corp. in 1954 after his military service. He went into management training and became the assistant superintendent of general services. Among his duties at Sparrows Point, Mr. Klima supervised the industrial complex’s fire and police departments.

While attending a wedding in Baltimore, he met his future wife, Martha Scanlan.

In 1982, she ran successfully for a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates. A Republican, she represented a district in Baltimore County that initially included the Rodgers Forge and Stoneleigh neighborhoods. She served in the House until 2003.

“Jim was my sign guy,” said Martha Klima of her husband. “He did not like knocking on doors. I’d give him a geographic list and he’d put the signs up.”

Her district’s lines were later redrawn and included northern Baltimore County, where Mr. Klima also assisted her in campaigning.

“My campaigns were a family affair for us,” she said. “He really enjoyed me being in the political life and I enjoyed him being in steel. He thought it was all just a hoot.”

In 1967 he ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the State Constitutional Convention.

He remained at Sparrows Point until 1986, then was named an administrative law judge at the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. He retired in 1992.

In a Baltimore Sun article that year, Mr. Klima was quoted as he attended the opening game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards — a state project originally opposed by his wife, who fought public spending for the ballpark.

“What do they expect us to do, cut off our nose in spite of our face? … It’s the only game in town,” he said, explaining to a reporter that he was, after all, a baseball fan.

Family members said Mr. Klima enjoyed playing guitar and composing songs. He a devotee of Broadway musicals and was an enthusiastic fisherman.

“He never met a fish he wanted to throw back,” said his son, James P. “Pat” Klima III of Pasadena. “He liked going out with his buddies at Loch Raven or Prettyboy.”

Robert Jump, a Forest Hill resident and friend, said they also sought rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay.

“I had a 14-foot boat and we didn’t mind crossing the Bay and heading for Rock Hall. Some days we had pretty good luck,” he said. “I always admired Jim’s ability to speak a little French. He’d make remarks, in French, about the fish that day.”

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, 101 Ware Avenue in Towson, where he was a longtime member.

In addition to his wife of 57 years and his son, survivors include another son, Andrew Thomas Klima of Phoenix in Baltimore County; a daughter, Jennifer Klima Kearney of Lutherville; and two grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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