John Franzone Jr., founder of a Hunt Valley plastics manufacturing company who combined his love of the outdoors with flying, died July 19 of heart failure at his Timonium home. He was 93.
The son of parents from Italy and Scotland, John Franzone Jr. was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and later moved with his family to Fort Montgomery in upstate New York.
It was while living there near Bear Mountain that Mr. Franzone began his lifelong passion for the outdoors as he roamed the fields and woods fishing and hunting.
As the Depression deepened, the family was forced to return to Brooklyn, where they settled in a cold-water flat.
Mr. Franzone was a graduate of the Manhattan Aviation Trade School, where he studied aeronautical engineering.
"When his mother died in a charity hospital when he was 19, he climbed Bear Mountain and declared to God that he would never be poor again," said Julie Franzone, his former daughter-in-law, who lives in Timonium.
"After his mother died, he put everything in the car and drove to Baltimore and went to work as a draftsman at the Glenn L. Martin Co.," said his son, John B. Franzone of Timonium, who is also a member of the Maryland Racing Commission and its former commissioner.
While working at Martin during World War II, Mr. Franzone became acquainted with Robert Brickett, who also worked at the company's Middle River plant.
Both men shared an interest in the developing field of plastics. In 1946, they and a silent partner, Bill Ebauer, established Fawn Plastics Inc. in a two-story garage in the 2900 block of Hamilton Ave., with one injection-molding machine.
"It was the beginning of injection molding, and the industry was in its infancy," said his son.
By 1953, the two men were able to leave their jobs at the Martin Co. and concentrate full time on developing Fawn Industries.
The business was so successful they relocated in 1956 to a 50,000-square-foot plant at York and Roundridge roads in Timonium, opposite the northern end of the state fairgrounds.
"Mr. Brickett was the manufacturing guy, whereas my father focused on sales and the customers. He was upbeat and a people person, and that was a result of his upbringing," his son said.
In the late 1970s, Mr. Franzone bought out his partners and expanded the business, which had grown to 1,000 workers and specialized in custom-injection molding that used laser technology to fashion parts for the automotive industry.
The Timonium plant closed in the early 1980s as production shifted to plants he built in Rocky Mount, N.C., Middlesex, N.C., and Maryville, Tenn. The company maintains a sales and engineering office in Detroit, and its headquarters remain in Hunt Valley.
Today, its production operations are based in China and Mexico.
Mr. Franzone guided Fawn Industries by the overriding principle of "Always do the right thing," his son said.
"He'd say, 'I don't care if some guy is a multimillionaire. Is he doing the right thing? If you do that, in the end you will prevail,' " said his son, who has been CEO of Fawn Industries since 1985.
After turning over the business to his son, Mr. Franzone started another business that embraced his lifelong interest in thoroughbred horse racing.
He purchased a 100-acre horse farm in Bel Air that he renovated and named Flying High Farm, where he bred thoroughbred racehorses with a daughter, Paige Schultz, who also lives in Bel Air.
"He always had projects and was into something. He loved going to the track and loved seeing his horses run. Even after they were claimed, he'd still go," said Ms. Schultz.
"He oversaw the maintenance of the farm and was still mowing the fields until he was in his 80s, which made me nervous," she said.
Mr. Franzone made his first solo flight when he was 16, and as an adult, used flying as a break from business pressures.
"He found freedom in the skies. He told me he never felt as good as when he was piloting his plane," said his other daughter, Diane Werich of Ashland, Ore. "He was a very good and meticulous pilot. He loved the business, which was very challenging, and when flying [he] could figure out things."
Through the years, Mr. Franzone owned a Citabria, an aerobatic airplane. He loved putting on shows for family and giving a passenger a queasy stomach as he launched into a series of barrel rolls and other daredevil aeronautical moves.
"He was fearless," his son said.
In later years, he owned a twin-engine Aztec and a King Air turbo-prop twin-engine plane, which he had kept initially at Friendship Flying Service and later moved to Martin State Airport.
"He loved the West and Northwest — especially Idaho, Montana and Oregon," said Ms. Werich.
Mr. Franzone recalled when he and his father went on flying, hiking and camping vacations.
"From the time I was 14 to 17, we spent every summer out West. We'd fly to some primitive dirt strip and then go backpacking for weeks in the wilderness," he said.
"He knew every berry and nut, and we'd catch fish to eat. For him, he always wanted to see what was over the next hill, and for me, I was hoping it was a Hilton," said Mr. Franzone, laughing.
Mr. Franzone continued flying until 1991, when he suffered his first stroke.
He regularly bicycled along the Gunpowder Falls State Oark bike trails until he was well into his 80s, and he drove his car until four months before his death.
"When he was 88, he was driving 45,000 miles a year. He was an explorer and could never stay in one place too long," his son said. "He'd come for a visit and then would say he had to go."
Plans for a memorial gathering are incomplete.
In addition to his son and two daughters, Mr. Franzone is survived by his wife of 71 years, the former Madelaine Neutzel; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun