William Boucher III, a businessman who influenced the city's downtown redevelopment as executive director of the Greater Baltimore Committee under 12 chairmen, six Baltimore mayors and as many governors, died Monday of a heart attack at Harbor Hospital Center.
Mr. Boucher, who was 76, had been stricken at the state Motor Vehicle Administration in Glen Burnie.
The Butler resident retired in 1981 from the GBC.
During a 26-year career with the GBC, he left his mark on the Charles Center, Inner Harbor Civic Center and Jones Falls Expressway projects, development of mass transit and the Maryland Port Authority and passage of the city's open housing law.
"He was big and strong of voice and had a special personality. He had a great vision and understood the needs not only of Baltimore but the region. He was persistent and knew his way around and was perhaps the best executive director that the Greater Baltimore Committee ever had," former Gov. William Donald Schaefer said yesterday.
Robert C. Embry Jr., the former city housing commissioner who is now executive director of the philanthropic Abell Foundation, described Mr. Boucher as having a "tremendous imagination and energy. He was a giant during his time."
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said, "I thought he was one of the most extraordinary individuals I had ever met. His death is an enormous loss to Baltimore."
Said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke: "I had a great deal of respect for Mr. Boucher. He did a wonderful job while working for the GBC and as a private businessman. He strongly encouraged people to invest in the city and invest in Baltimoreans."
Mr. Boucher was a member of a French family that has lived in Baltimore since 1888. He was raised on Canterbury Road, graduated from City College in 1938, and later earned a bachelor's degree from Loyola College and attended the University of Maryland Law School.
After serving in Arizona, North Africa and the Pacific as an Army Air Forces major during World War II, he returned to Baltimore and became active with the Citizens' Planning and Housing Association. In 1950, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress.
He worked in his family's tobacco business and later was vice president for three years in the early 1950s of Hopper McGaw's, then Baltimore's fabled gourmet grocery on Charles Street.
Mr. Boucher recalled being astounded by the seriousness of Baltimore's problems when he took a walk around the city one day in the early 1950s with Judge Thomas J. S. Waxter, then head of the city welfare department, and saw crowded slums and a shabby downtown shopping district.
He said he found conditions worse than the North African slums he had seen during the war. Twenty-five thousand homes still had outhouses and one out of every four Baltimoreans was squeezed into 2 percent of the land area.
Back then, the stagnation in the city's housing and other areas was partly due to the ineffectiveness of civic groups and a lack of involvement of businessmen who could push programs, Mr. Boucher said in an interview with The Sun in 1974.
In the mid-1950s, a group that included bankers, lawyers, architects and department store executives -- among them James W. Rouse, Clarence Miles, Thomas Butler, Louis Kohn, Archibald Rogers and Robert Levi -- came together to tackle the city's problems, forming what soon became known as the Greater Baltimore Committee.
At first, Mr. Boucher was perceived as being too liberal and controversial to be its executive director. But he begged Mr. Miles for the job -- even offering to work for nothing. He was hired and worked without a contract until he retired.
"I thought his finest hour of public service was as executive director of the Greater Baltimore Committee," said former mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III. "He was the glue that held the coalition between business and the political community. He carried on that job with diplomacy, competency and industry. With all of our woes, he tried to make our community a better place."
Said J. Bernard Manekin, CEO of Manekin Corp. and former GBC chairman: "Bill would go out day and night, seven days a week, to talk to civic groups and concerned citizens. His efforts on behalf of reconstructing the city brought not only new vitality but national prominence."
Walter Sondheim Jr., who chaired the Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management organization that oversaw Baltimore's downtown renewal, described Mr. Boucher as being "extremely bright and a very able advocate for the things he was interested in. He advocated civil rights in the early days and was the spokesman before the City Council on the first open occupancy bill."
Former Republican Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr., an old ally and now a lawyer with a Washington, D.C., firm, said of Mr. Boucher's death: "When I was a law student at the University of Maryland Law School I heard of his work with veterans. He was determined to make it a much better world for them and that was the kind of spirit that he maintained throughout his life. Despite recent events in his life, he kept soldiering on."
In 1982, Mr. Boucher directed the fund-raising effort for the re-election campaign of Gov. Harry R. Hughes, who later appointed Mr. Boucher to the board of regents of Morgan State College, a position he held at his death.
"He was just a very decent person who was concerned about people, and I think that showed through all his years with the GBC and his work with social programs," said Mr. Hughes.
"His contribution to Morgan was enormous. He had such a grasp of the university and was interested in its mission and role," Earl Richardson, president of Morgan State, said. "He was interested in the issues of undereducation, underemployment, poverty, drugs and how to take that population and move it into the mainstream. No one could articulate Morgan's role better than Mr. Boucher. He was always out on the firing line for us."
Mr. Boucher's interests were not confined to business but extended to the cultural life of Baltimore. He was a founder of Center Stage, a member of the board of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and helped establish the Center Club.
After his retirement from the GBC, he founded Boucher & Associates, urban planning consultants, and was chairman of Roberts Mills Development Corp. In 1988, he established Medical Waste Associates Inc. with the late Harry J. McGuirk, former state senator; Thomas D. McKewen, former head of the Maryland Environmental Service; developer Andrew H. Kaufman; developer Otis Warren Jr.; Park Sausage Chairman Raymond V. Haysbert Sr.; developer Theo Rodgers and Neil Ruther, general counsel of the firm. In 1994, the company filed a bankruptcy reorganization plan, and Mr. Boucher filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
"He kept up his chin through all of his difficulties and faced his problems. He was also busy writing a book, 'A Thousand Faces,' about the history of the Baltimore renaissance," said his wife of 33 years, the former Anne Carey.
The couple lived on a 200-year-old, 36-acre farm on Western Run Road, near Butler.
"This property was his church -- he'd come out here to get recharged. He grew roses, walked and rode horses and then he was ready to go back downtown to work," said Mrs. Boucher.
In recent years, Mr. Boucher could be spotted having a cup of coffee in a Charles Street cafe or strolling the streets of the city he had so profoundly changed.
Services for Mr. Boucher are planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Charles and Saratoga streets.
He is survived by a brother, Abbot Boucher of Towson; four nephews and a niece.