Robin A. Childress

Robin A. Childress (Baltimore Sun / August 25, 2014)

R. Alonzo "Lonz" Childress, a civil engineer whose career with the Baltimore County Department of Public Works spanned more than 40 years, died Saturday at Johns Hopkins Hospital of complications from an infection. The Taneytown resident was 72.

"Lonz was one of the most pragmatic and even-keeled persons that you'd ever meet. He was good at getting to the bottom of problems," said Brian L. Childress, a nephew who is a civil engineer with D.S. Thaler & Associates.

"He always maintained a steady course and never got worked up. He could solve engineering problems without ever getting out of sync," said Mr. Childress, who lives in Perry Hall. "Like peeling back the layers of an onion, he could get to the core issue."

The son of Walter Childress, a Bethlehem Steel Corp. worker, and Virgie Childress, a Crown Cork and Seal employee, Robin Alonzo Childress was born in Armistead Gardens and raised in Rosedale. Family members said he never used his first name.

After graduating in 1960 from Kenwood High School, he began working as a junior engineering aide for the Baltimore County Department of Public Works Bureau of Engineering, while studying at night at the Johns Hopkins University for his engineering degree, which he received in 1974.

"He studied for 14 years," said his daughter, Cindy Childress of Westminster.

From 1965 to 1969, he served with the 175th Wing of the Maryland Air National Guard, both in Maryland and Clovis, N.M.

When Mr. Childress retired from Baltimore County in 2003, he was chief of the storm drain section.

He then established R.A. Childress & Associates, an engineering firm that specialized in guiding the private sector through the complicated subdivision process, his daughter said.

"He opened his own practice that specialized in land development. What he was so good at was that Lonz was such a collaborative person and the clients liked that," his nephew said. "He could look at an engineering problem, break it down into simple terms, and then find a common solution. He was good at finding out what was important."

Mr. Childress closed his practice and retired last year.

In addition to his engineering work, Mr. Childress had been involved with the Baltimore County Employees Federal Credit Union, where he began as a volunteer in 1975.

Through the years, he had served with the supervisory, budget, special programs, security and building committees.

In 1979, he was elected to the credit union's board of directors, where he served for more than 25 years. Because of his engineering background, he was instrumental in overseeing a number of building projects at the credit union.

"I think Lonz will always be remembered as a very thoughtful and good listener and he was dedicated to the credit union and its members," said David P. Hagar, president of the BCEFCU. "He was unflappable and composed, which are good traits."

As chairman of the building committee, Mr. Childress oversaw the purchase of a building in 1980 at 23 W. Susquehanna Ave. that opened as its headquarters the next year.

"He took what had been an old straw factory and oversaw its renovation," said Mr. Hagar. "He was excellent at his trade, and we will miss him."

When the building was renovated in the 1990s to accommodate a growing membership, he oversaw that project. In 2002, after years of research and planning, Mr. Childress participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for the credit union's two-story Perry Hall branch.

After the branch opened in 2003, Mr. Childress stepped down from the board of directors and retired.

The former Rosedale and Forest Hill resident was diagnosed in 2007 with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia, or CMML, and was told the average life span was 18 months.

A year later, he was accepted into a clinical trial at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where his health was monitored and evaluated by CMML researchers who were studying future treatment options.

Ultimately, he responded so favorably to the initial trial group, family members said, that a second clinical trial was established and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration just for Mr. Childress.

The research information obtained from Mr. Childress was chronicled in a publication by Dr. B. Douglas Smith, an associate professor of oncology at Hopkins.

"Lonz was always concerned about others first and foremost," said his wife of 50 years, the former Patricia Einschutz. "It was so like him to turn the negative of an illness into a potential positive for others also affected by CMML."

When he was in his 50s and 60s, Mr. Childress enjoyed skiing.

"But he loved engineering and subdivisions and that was his life," his daughter said. "He also liked spending time with his grandson, Thomas 'T.J.' Frazier."

Services are private.

In addition to his wife, daughter and grandson, Mr. Childress is survived by a son, Robert Childress of Taneytown, and a brother, Charles Childress of Ocean View, Del.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com