John M. Hession, Back River Neck activist

John M. Hession, an eastern Baltimore County activist who worked to protect the Back River Neck peninsula from overdevelopment, died March 28 of complications from a stroke at Franklin Square Medical Center.

The Sue Creek resident was 84.

"It's a delicate balancing act between the community, developers and politicians, and it takes a very special person to tackle those issues, and that was Jack Hession," said Kevin M. McDonough, vice president of the Rockaway Beach Improvement Association/Turkey Point Improvement Association.

Mr. Hession worked to bring those disparate elements together, "so in the end it was something that everyone could live with and be proud of," said Mr. McDonough, who is also on the board of the Back River Neck Peninsula Community Association.

"Jack was extremely passionate and very animated about this area when he spoke at meetings," said Kim Goodwin, who is also a member of the board of the Back River Neck Peninsula Community Association.

"What's so sad is that it's hard to find people like Jack and the late Jackie Nickel, who was also a Turkey Point activist, to step up to the plate," Ms. Godwin said. "He will be missed by the entire community."

The son of John Francis Hession, a city police officer, and Teresa Puls Hession, a homemaker, John Michael Hession was born in Baltimore and raised on Federal Street and later in Overlea.

His love of Baltimore County, with its forests, truck farms, dusty back roads and rural character, began early in life.

"From the time he was a toddler, he'd go to Sue Creek, and he spent every summer of his life down here," said his wife of 59 years, the former Mary Lou Loskot.

"His grandparents, who were immigrants from Ireland, would rent a shore house on Sue Creek. Of course, in those days, it had a hand pump for water, no electricity and an outhouse," she said.

"He'd go there the day after school let out for the summer and would return back home the day before [school] opened," she said. "He had such a love for the area."

After graduating from Calvert Hall College High School in 1950, he enlisted in the Navy and served during the Korean War as an aerial photographer aboard the carriers USS Bennington and USS Coral Sea.

Mr. Hession was aboard the Bennington in 1954 when a catapult used to launch planes leaked hydraulic fluid, which was ignited by a jet taking off. The resulting fire caused a series of explosions that killed 103 crew members and injured more than 200 others.

His wife said they met as Overlea neighbors.

"As teenagers, we went to the same rec dances and hung out at the drugstore sipping milkshakes," she said "I along with my girl friends would go to the Overlea Bowling Alley, and he'd be there with his boy friends and we started up a conversation."

They were married in 1958.

Discharged from the Navy in 1959, Mr. Hession worked in sales for a lithography company while attending the University of Baltimore at night. He earned a bachelor's degree in marketing in 1963.

He later continued working in sales for Barton, Duer and Koch Paper Co., eventually being named the company's sales manager.

When the company was taken over by the Butler Paper Co., Mr. Hession was named general manager of its Baltimore division. He retired in 1992.

He had been an active member of the Printing Industries of Maryland.

Mr. Hession permanently moved to Sue Creek from Overlea more than three decades ago.

"I got Jack to be vice president for two years of the Back River Neck Peninsula Community Association, and then he served as president in 1998 to 1999," said Carl Maynard, who is the organization's current president and lives on Muddy Gut Creek, which is off Back River.

"He was a good friend and we enjoyed going to hearings in Towson. He also ran a good meeting," Mr. Maynard said. "I think it was Jack's business skills that helped him a lot run no-nonsense meetings. If he took on an issue, he followed up on it."

Mr. Maynard said it was his friend's diligence that resulted in the dredging of Sue Creek and a 6-mph speed limit for boats on the waterway.

Another of Mr. Hession's achievements with the Back River Neck Peninsula Community Association fighting to preserve one of Baltimore County's largest contiguous tracts of forested area along the waterfront.

He was the "voice for the community and environment when the county had pushed for increased expansion of marinas along Middle River, a proposed mini-Harborplace on Dark Head Cove, an effort to save Sue Creek, the controversial SB-509 (Condemnation for Revitalization Bill) and on developmental issues and affairs impacting his home community for the Back River Neck Peninsula," Mr. McDonough wrote in a profile of Mr. Hession.

"It was a very pivotal time in Baltimore County, when county executives Dutch Ruppersberger and Jim Smith [were involved] with their efforts to revitalize eastern Baltimore County," Mr. McDonough said in a telephone interview.

"He steered the ship and [because of that,] Essex and Middle River are what they are today. Jack was articulate and thoughtful, and respectful of the feelings of the people who lived there," he said. "He could bridge the gaps between the people and politicians and go toe-to-toe with developers."

For many years, Mr. Hession led the community's road cleanup efforts.

"He believed in putting in the sweat equity to really help make his community a better place, and encouraged many others to do the same," Mr. McDonough said.

Mr. Hession remained active in community affairs until his health began to fail last year.

An avid boater, Mr. Hession and his wife regularly sailed for years not only in local waters but also with friends in the Caribbean, his wife said.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Schimunek Funeral Home, 9705 Belair Road.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three daughters, Laura M. Hession of Frederick, Kathleen Hession Barger of Bel Air and Mariclaire Hession Landman of Charlottesville, Va.; a brother, Joseph Hession of Bowleys Quarters; a sister, Patricia Sweeney of Sparks; and four grandchildren.

frasmussen@baltsun.com

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