Samuel F. Heffner Jr., a real estate developer and builder who embraced the concept of an "aerotropolis" at Baltimore's airport, died April 8 at Gilchrist Hospice Care of complications from a head injury he suffered in a vehicle accident. A resident of Phoenix in Baltimore County, he was 82.
Born in Bradford, Pa., he was the son of Samuel F. Heffner Sr. and Erma Heffner. He earned a bachelor's degree in architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he remained an active alumnus and served as chairman of the school's board of trustees for 15 years. An alumni building is named in his honor.
He served in the Air Force and then joined U.S. Steel in Pittsburgh before moving to Baltimore, where he worked in the real estate division of McCormick & Co. He helped develop Hunt Valley warehouses and manufacturing buildings.
Mr. Heffner was a pilot, and he flew aircraft throughout his life. In the 1960s, when he would fly into what is now Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, he noted the underdeveloped lands around it. He recalled that much of the land was taken up by pig farms and that cows grazed near the runways of what he described as a "sleepy airport."
"Most airports contained a huge amount of development," he said in a 1997 Baltimore Sun article. "And this one didn't. It was way behind what was happening in other parts of the country."
He later left McCormick, became a partner in the firm of Dickinson-Heffner and built a warehouse-office building on land he owned on Elkridge Landing Road. The site later became a National Security Agency facility. He also built an annex to the Social Security Administration headquarters at Woodlawn and the former Maryland State Department of Education headquarters.
"Sam was one of our early business leaders," said former Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall. "He was solid and established himself in this region. He was really an asset to Anne Arundel County."
In 1977, Mr. Heffner took on a partner, Mitchell Weber, also an RPI graduate. In 1994, the firm became Heffner & Weber.
The 1997 Sun article noted that Mr. Heffner and his partner were "largely responsible for the sprawling development that's mushroomed around Baltimore-Washington International Airport."
He acquired additional tracts of land and built Airport Square, also on Elkridge Landing Road, and later expanded into Nursery Road. His firm built the Hoyts Cinemas complex and numerous hotels and office structures adjacent to the airport. Colleagues said he used the term "aerotropolis" to describe his holdings.
His firm also designed and built the Maryland Department of Transportation headquarters in Hanover.
Mr. Heffner became a founder and chair of the BWI Business Partnership, an organization that promotes transportation and financial interests in the area.
"It was part of Sam's passion that we were able to design and build a project from the cradle up," said Mr. Weber. "We were nimble and worked with a nucleus of talented people, and Sam was our leader."
Mr. Heffner served on the boards of Mannington Mills Co., a floor covering firm, and the University of Maryland Medical System.
He was also active with Greater Baltimore Medical Center and was chair of its HealthCare Philanthropy Committee. He spearheaded a $54.7 million fundraising campaign for the hospital's 50th anniversary in 2015 and was also a major donor to the hospital.
"Sam Heffner was a man of many accomplishments who gave so much back to Baltimore," Dr. John Chessare, president of GBMC HealthCare, said in a statement. "We will be forever grateful for Sam's leadership on our Board of Directors and as the Chair of the Board's Philanthropy Committee."
Me. Heffner had been chairman of the national board of Delta Kappa Epsilon, his college fraternity.
In 2011 RPI awarded him an honorary doctorate for his years of service to the school.
Mr. Heffner enjoyed playing golf and sailing at the Winter Harbor Yacht Club in Maine. He was also a resident of Florida, and lived at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo. He also belonged to the Card Sound Club at Ocean Reef, Fla., and the Tralee Golf Club in Kerry, Ireland.
Mr. Heffner's family will receive friends from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.
Survivors include two sons, Stephen C. Heffner of Pasadena and Scott T. Heffner of Reisterstown; and three grandchildren. His wife of 55 years, Gail Elaine Porter, a nurse and pilot, died in 2015.