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John Sherwood, who for more than 50 years crafted profiles on an array of working-class characters and fringy eccentrics as a columnist and features writer in Baltimore, Washington and Annapolis, died Dec. 7. He was 84. - Original Credit: Handout
John Sherwood, who for more than 50 years crafted profiles on an array of working-class characters and fringy eccentrics as a columnist and features writer in Baltimore, Washington and Annapolis, died Dec. 7. He was 84. - Original Credit: Handout (Courtesy of Marc Tyler / HANDOUT)

John R. Sherwood, a former newspaperman and inveterate Chesapeake Bay sailor who chronicled disappearing occupations, trades and ways of life in his book "Maryland's Vanishing Lives," died Dec. 7 from colon cancer at Assisted Living Well Compassionate Care in Millersville. The longtime Severna Park resident was 84.

The son of Dr. John Sczerbicki, a Polish immigrant physician, and Lucy Snyder,a homemaker, John Robert Sczerbicki was born in Baltimore and raised near Eastern Avenue and Ann Street. He later legally changed his surname to Sherwood.

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He graduated in 1951 from Calvert Hall College High School. He attended the University of Maryland, College Park before enlisting in the Army and serving a tour of duty in Korea.

Mr. Sherwood began his newspaper career in 1960 working for several Baltimore County weekly publications, then joined The Evening Sun as a general assignment and features reporter.

In 1962, he joined the staff of the old Washington Evening Star as a features reporter and was one of the contributors to "The Rambler," a popular daily feature that profiled regional people and places.

When The Star ceased publication in 1981, Mr. Sherwood went to work at the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, and later joined the staff of the Miami Herald.

During his days at The Star, Mr. Sherwood learned to sail. By the late 1980s he was longing to return to his Severna Park home and beloved Chesapeake Bay. He became a senior writer for Soundings, where he also wrote a monthly column, "Bay Tripper" in which he captured the lives of those who lived, sailed and worked in Tidewater Maryland.

He continued writing for the magazine until early this year, and also became managing editor of Rags, an East Coast sailing magazine based in Annapolis.

Mr. Sherwood had a wanderlust for exploring back roads and waterways of Maryland in search of people working jobs or trades that were in peril of vanishing. That interest was inspired in part by Charles Kuralt, the legendary CBS News reporter, whose "On the Road" series kept viewers entertained for years. Mr Sherwood's days with The Star as a contributor to "The Rambler" also fueled that passion.

A 1994 article in the old Sunday Sun Magazine noted: "John Sherwood decided he'd champion ways of life that have been forgotten or overlooked. He'd make the old-fashioned and the eccentric his beat.

"He'd keep track as families passed down folkways and trades and while changing technologies threatened to make their livelihoods and pastimes obsolete," the article noted.

He wrote profiles of more than 60 people, and in the book "Maryland's Vanishing Lives" he called them "stubborn survivors — living time capsules, anachronisms, twilight zones."

The book was published in 1994 by the Johns Hopkins University Press. He worked with former Sun photographer Edwin H. Remsberg, who illustrated the book.

"I was not interested in Colonial Williamsburg-style re-creations and restorations," Mr. Sherwood wrote. "Often, the traits I found most admirable in these persons were their blunt honesty; their stubborn independence and resistance to change; devotion to work, duty, family and tradition; and a complete disregard of public opinion."

He encouraged readers: "Slow down and look around before it all goes away."

"Sherwood's great gift was the ability to discern hidden, intriguing facets from the hoity-toity to the hoi-polloi. He could make them talk about themselves, often by asking innocently outrageous questions," former Star newsroom colleague Winston Groom, a Southern novelist who was the creator of "Forrest Gump," wrote in a profile of his friend.

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Mr. Sherwood was a well-known figure around the Chesapeake Bay, which he navigated for more than 30 years in Erewhon, a classic fiberglass sailboat. The Sparkman & Stephens designed Sailmaster 22 was built in Holland in 1962.

"The bridge tenders on Spa Creek knew him so well that he didn't have to blow his horn to signal to raise the bridge," said a son, Scott Sherwood of Washington.

"When he fell in love with sailing, it became an obsession," his son said. "He loved being under sail and not motor. He loved the freedom, independence and beauty of it."

Mr. Sherwood was 83 when he made his last sail in Erewhon on Aug. 16, his son said. That last sail included his two sons and John Barry, a retired Caribbean schooner captain who lives in Oak Island, N.C.

In the October edition of SpinSheet, a Chesapeake Bay sailing magazine, Mr. Sherwood wrote "Farewell to a Beloved Sailboat Named Erewhon," explaining why he was selling the boat.

"An unfortunate illness has forced me to put her on the market and retire from solo sailing. (Am I actually writing these words?)" he wrote. "Arthritis was a curse I learned to sail with, and it made me improvise ways to make things easier for the old man. The boat never failed me in three decades."

Of the last sail he wrote, "A final family sail on Erewhon with Barry at the helm is planned before all of the out-of-towners depart for home," he wrote. "They will circle Thomas Point Lighthouse, long my favorite historic Bay landmark."

This fall, Erewhon was purchased by his old friend Mr. Groom.

It was Mr. Sherwood's wish to have his ashes scattered off Thomas Point Lighthouse next summer, his son said.

His wife of 44 years, Elizabeth "Betty" Cronin, died in 2000, and another son, Eric Sherwood, died earlier this year.

In addition to his son, Mr. Sherwood is survived by another son, Mark Sherwood of Bangkok; a brother, Ron Sczerbicki of Pasadena; and a granddaughter.

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