Theo C. Rodgers didn’t have much interest when a Harvard Business School acquaintance tried to recruit him to work for Baltimore’s Parks Sausage Co. in the 1970s. He figured he would do a courtesy interview and demand terms no one would agree to: unfettered access to the company’s legendary president, Henry G. Parks Jr., and the authority to do whatever he saw fit. Parks said yes, and Baltimore is immeasurably better for it.
At Parks, Mr. Rodgers entered the orbit of Baltimore’s most prominent African-American businessmen — not just Parks but also Raymond V. Haysbert, who helped Parks become the first publicly traded minority-owned company, and Willie L. Adams, the former numbers runner who became the most prominent financial backer of black entrepreneurs in the city. It was with Mr. Adams that Mr. Rodgers formed the company he still runs, A&R Development, in 1977. And it is with the civic-minded spirit of that older generation of black businessmen that he developed deep roots in his adopted hometown.
A&R started out building affordable housing in Baltimore, Philadelphia and elsewhere but eventually moved into a wide variety of residential and commercial projects, as diverse as townhouses in Canton and student housing at Morgan State University. Along the way, Mr. Rodgers became one of the most prominent African-American developers in the region and a mentor to other business leaders. “My father ... has an innate desire to learn new things and take on new challenges,” said his daughter, Marjorie Rodgers Cheshire, who is A&R’s president and chief operating officer. “I can’t imagine my father in any state of real retirement. He just loves challenges.”
Mr. Rodgers has helped lead a wide variety of Baltimore’s civic institutions, including serving over the years as a director or trustee of the Johns Hopkins Health System, the University of Maryland Baltimore Foundation, the Baltimore Development Corp., the Greater Baltimore Committee and many others. But he also has a penchant for one-on-one involvement in ways the public may never see.
“He supports people he thinks deserve to be supported and takes chances on people he thinks have hope,” said J.P. Grant, the financier. “When he sees a need and a way to fix it, he puts a plan in to make it work.”