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John G. 'Jack' Wharton, noted real estate attorney, dies

John G. “Jack” Wharton, a real estate attorney who served as mentor to generations of young lawyers, died June 18 from heart failure at the Blakehurst Retirement Community in Towson. The former North Baltimore resident was 91.

“Jack was outgoing and felt very comfortable ... meeting new people and getting them to talk about themselves. He was great at it,” said Craig D. Roswell, managing partner at Niles, Barton & Wilmer LLP, the Baltimore firm where Mr. Wharton worked for more than six decades.

“He was also great at getting people together, and relentless about moving their deals forward. He just loved to get things done,” said Mr. Roswell, of Ruxton.

Susan B. Austin of Roland Park was another colleague at Niles, Barton & Wilmer.

“Jack was somebody who loved life and never gave up on anything,” said Ms. Austin, a lawyer who works in estate planning and administration. “He was a really generous person and so vocally appreciative whenever you did something for him. [He] was always sending me cases of wine from Eddie’s,” she said. “He was such a force of nature.”

John Gill Wharton was the son of Dr. Lawrence R. Wharton Sr., a gynecologist and assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the Johns Hopkins Medical School, and Louise Wallace Hazelhurst. He was born in Baltimore and raised in Roland Park.

After graduating in 1945 from the Gilman School, he served in the Navy, then entered Princeton University. He received a bachelor’s degree in religion in 1949.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet. I came down to see the dean of the law school. We had this conversation, and he asked if I wanted to be a lawyer and I said, ‘I don’t know. I just don’t want to go to work yet,’” Mr. Wharton told The Daily Record in a 2013 interview. “He said, ‘Well, we need honest lawyers and your grades at Princeton are good.’ ”

While attending the University of Maryland School of Law, he worked as a wrestling and football coach at Gilman and on the assembly line of the old General Motors Co. plant on Broening Highway.

After obtaining his law degree and passing the bar exam in 1953, he joined Niles, Barton & Wilmer as a lawyer working in real estate transactions. By the late 1950s he had been made a partner in the firm.

“He was an extremely talented real estate lawyer who found creative ways to solve problems and get top, successful closings,” wrote Mr. Roswell in a tribute to Mr. Wharton at the time of his 65th anniversary with the firm. “He had a way of making his clients believe their issues were the most important thing in the world, and they were to him. He developed close personal relationships with many of his clients.”

“One such client was Eugene Kane. He helped Gene launch his successful moving company, E.I. Kane, and its offshoot Office Movers, whose trucks practically became landmarks traversing the streets in the Baltimore-Washington area,” wrote a son, Peter G. Wharton of Chesapeake Beach, in a biographical profile of his father.

“The clients aren’t institutions, they’re people,” Mr. Wharton said in The Daily Record interview.

During the 1985 Maryland savings and loan crisis, Mr. Wharton took a lead role in the firm’s work with the conservatorship overseeing the failure of Old Court Savings and Loan Association.

Mr. Wharton was also known for his work mentoring young lawyers.

“He mentored me when I first started here,” said Mr. Roswell, who has been with the firm for 25 years. “We didn’t practice in the same area, I’m a litigator, but he took me under his wing and into his orbit.

“At that time they didn’t have an office for me, so they put me in the real estate department,” he recalled. “Jack continually reminded me that it’s all about relationships and that you find work from the people you meet.”

As his workload decreased in recent years, Mr. Wharton approached Mr. Roswell with the idea of starting a formal mentoring program for younger partners and associates.

Mr. Wharton enjoyed spending time in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but never formally retired.

“He still had his office here, his mentoring program, and would check in with me pretty much daily,” Mr. Roswell said. “Jack’s death is a big loss for us.”

“The firm is a big, big family,” Mr. Wharton told The Daily Record. “I work with a lot of younger people, which is great, really stimulating. … The firm is really good to me. I feel they do more good for me than I do for them.”

Mr. Wharton’s professional memberships included the Baltimore City Bar Association, Maryland Bar Association and the American Bar Association, where he served on its real estate finance committee. He had also been a director of International Limousine Service Inc.

Mr. Wharton also vacationed at a family home on Lake Sebago in Maine, and sailed Penobscot Bay for a month and a half during the late summer with his three sons.

“We’d start at Northeast Harbor and lived on the boat,” his son said. “We’d visit friends from Baltimore at their summer homes, buy supper through boat-to-boat transactions with lobstermen and on occasion navigated through dense fog in search of a familiar buoy.”

Mr. Wharton lived for years at Chattolanee, and after marrying the former Sharon Brant in 1976, they moved to Roland Park. They later lived in Cross Keys.

He and his wife, who died last year, enjoyed hunting waterfowl on the Eastern Shore, travel and attending Princeton reunions.

Mr. Wharton was a member of the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club, where he served on its board of governors and as secretary. He was also a member of the Fort Lauderdale Country Club. He and his wife were avid golfers; he had a framed collection of some 150 golf balls from courses they had played.

He was an Orioles and Ravens fan. His son said that in addition to sailing, his “other passions” were reading history and mysteries.

Last year, Mr. Wharton summed up his life when he wrote, “My goal in life is to make someone each day feel a little better.”

He was a communicant of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., where a memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. July 21.

In addition to his son, he is survived by two other sons, John G. Wharton Jr. of California, in St. Mary’s County, and Robert L. Wharton of Littleton, Colo.; a stepson, Michael L. Starr of Waipahu, Hawaii; a stepdaughter, Zoe Starr of Boca Raton, Fla. and five grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Susan A. Pendleton ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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