William Earl Moritz, retired air traffic controller, dies

William Earl Moritz, a retired air traffic controller who was in the control tower the day what is now Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport opened in 1950, died Sunday of congestive heart failure at Carroll Lutheran Village.

He was 90.

Mr. Moritz, the son of a pharmacist and a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on South Calhoun Street in Pigtown.

After graduating from City College in 1938, he enrolled at the Federal Aviation Administration Training Academy in Oklahoma City.

He began his career in the late 1930s as an air traffic controller at what was then Pan American World Airway's terminal at Harbor Field on Colgate Creek, which several years later became the old Baltimore Municipal Airport.

"At that time, the controllers had to install their own communications equipment in addition to controlling aircraft," said a daughter, Wilma E. Rosenberger of Taneytown. "When the FAA started taking over the control towers in the 1940s, he became one of the first federal air traffic controllers in Maryland."

During World War II, Mr. Moritz enlisted in the Navy, where he became an electronics and radar instructor at Corpus Christi, Texas.

When the old Friendship Airport --- now BWI-Marshal --- opened in 1950, Mr. Moritz was part of the original air traffic control staff.

At the time of his retirement in 1975, he was assistant air traffic control chief.

"He had lots of stories," Mrs. Rosenberger said.

"Before security was what it is now at BWI, one day a lady insisted that she had to be let into the tower. It was clear she was having mental problems and my father didn't want to let her up," she said.

"He finally relented and gave her a special tour of the tower while someone quietly called the police, so she wouldn't get alarmed. They came and finally removed her," Mrs. Rosenberger said.

Ronald H. Zimmerman came to work as an air traffic controller in the tower in 1962, and became a lifelong friend of Mr. Moritz.

"Bill was an established supervisor when I came to work there. He was very thorough and knew his job and had experience as an air traffic controller that went back to the 'good old days' of the 1930s," he said.

"The life of an air traffic controller is pretty routine, however, there can be moments when the unexpected happens and be on your toes," said Mr. Zimmerman, who is retired and now lives in Halifax, Pa.

"But in those early days, Friendship wasn't as busy as it is now. When a situation came up that bordered on the hazardous, he'd oversee the operation but would let people do what they had to do," he said.

He described Mr. Moritz, no matter what the situation, as being perpetually "calm and unflappable."

"Through training, you're taught to be level-headed, alert, and to expect the unexpected," he said.

Recalling Mr. Moritz's early days at the airport, Mr. Zimmerman said the "electronics of that time were not always 100 percent reliable" and that traffic controllers had to keep an "eye on the weather and be ready for those events."

"Bill was always there to keep us on track," he said.

Before Mr. Moritz was promoted to management, he also owned and operated Bill's TV Repair.

"We always had station wagons so he could haul the TV sets he repaired back and forth," his daughter said.

Beginning in the late 1940s, Mr. Moritz held a commercial pilot's rating.

Mr. Moritz preferred driving on vacations rather than flying, his daughter said.

"He took us on marvelous three week vacations and we visited most of the states and saw lots of interesting things. They were a lot of fun," Mrs. Rosenberger said.

After retiring in 1975, the longtime Catonsville resident and his wife, the former Laura Estelle Wall whom he married in the late 1930s, moved to Gresham, Ore., to try their hand at farming.

At their home, the planted fruit trees, vegetables and flowers. The couple was especially interested in irises, some of which were hybrids they had developed on their own.

"In 1993, he won from the American Iris Society the best specimen of show for his Twink, " his daughter said, describing one of Mr. Moritz's iris hybrids.

Other medals from the society included the second medal for sweepstakes in the Standard Dwarf Bearded, and silver medal for excellence in exhibiting the most blue ribbon specimens at the Greater Portland Iris Society.

The couple spent 23 years in Gresham before moving to Carroll Lutheran Village in 1998. Mrs. Moritz died in 2008.

Mr. Moritz was a member of Catonsville Presbyterian Church and had been an active member of its men's club.

While living in Gresham, he was a member of Hollyview Baptist Church and Portland Iris Society,

Mr. Moritz enjoyed playing the violin and was a self-taught pianist and organist. He also enjoyed photography and had a fully equipped darkroom in the basement of his former Catonsville home.

"He still liked playing around with electronics," his daughter said.

Services will be at noon Tuesday in the Krug Chapel at Carroll Lutheran Village, 300 St. Luke Circle, Westminster.

Also surviving are a son, William E. Moritz III of Groton, Conn.; two other daughters, Faye M. Liston of Waxhall, N.C., and Laura E. Hopper of Portland, Ore.; six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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