William T. King, a farm boy from White Hall and self-made XTC arborist whose lush plantings grace the Inner Harbor and the newly renovated Federal Hill Park, died of a heart attack at his Timonium home Thursday. He was 79.
His death came one day before residents of Federal Hill gathered to celebrate the reopening of their historic square, which includes 47 of Mr. King's trees and yards of his ivy.
"It was the last thing his company planted in the city," said his wife, the former Helen Buckingham. "I guess you could say it was his final legacy."
The couple would have celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary yesterday -- a love affair that began over dinner in Ocean City and took them from a lawn mowing business they ran out of a Govans apartment to a major landscaping firm in Timonium.
"We had a pretty wonderful life," said Mrs. King, 74. "He was a hard worker and a good friend. There wasn't a day that went by in the last few years that we didn't go out to lunch or for a walk around the market. I'm going to miss him dreadfully."
Mr. King grew up on his family's farm in northern Baltimore County, working the fields and attending classes at the Sparks School. His father later lost the land and moved the family to Riderwood, and Mr. King enlisted in the Army.
Two months before he went to boot camp in October 1942, he ventured to Ocean City, where he met his future wife.
Discharged the next year from an Army supply company in Mississippi, Mr. King returned to Baltimore, and the couple married a few months later. With a lawn mower and a pair of hedge trimmers, he went into the landscaping business.
"It was hard at first," said Mrs. King.
But by 1949, Mr. King had two men working for him and business was good enough to enable the Kings to build their home in Timonium, where they reared two daughters.
In 1970, Mr. King's son-in-law, Ron Shorts, joined the business, and it seemed that William T. King Inc. expanded almost overnight. With more time to pursue new contracts, Mr. King started bidding on government jobs all over the Baltimore region and became a major beneficiary of the city's renaissance.
Soon, his crews were planting trees and elaborate landscaping displays around public buildings from Pratt Street to Hunt Valley including many of the floral gardens around the Inner Harbor.
In 1980, Mr. King retired and he and his wife indulged their passion for travel. But he always kept a hand in the business, his son-in-law said, and was known around the shop as "The Boss" until the day he died.
Viewing will be held today at Evans Funeral Chapel, 2325 York Road in Timonium, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Services will be held tomorrow at 10 a.m., followed by burial at the Vernon Methodist Church cemetery in White Hall, Baltimore County.
In addition to his wife, Mr. King is survived by two daughters, Carolyn Shorts and Sally Beste, both of Timonium; and four grandchildren.