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Henry Knott Sr. dies philanthropist was 89; Construction tycoon gave fortunes to hospitals, schools

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Henry J. Knott Sr.: An obituary yesterday misnamed the place of burial, New Cathedral Cemetery, 4300 Old Frederick Road, Baltimore.

Henry J. Knott Sr., the hard-driving multimillionaire developer renowned for his prodigious philanthropy, died yesterday at Johns Hopkins Hospital after a brief illness. He was 89.

Mr. Knott, who had entered the hospital recently for surgery, later contracted pneumonia, which was listed as the cause of death.

He started work as a bricklayer with his father's construction company in the 1920s but rose through business as a brick contractor and made his fortune developing real estate. Much of that fortune he gave to Maryland colleges, schools and hospitals, with gifts that particularly linked his name to Loyola College, Hopkins Hospital and the state's Roman Catholic schools.

Those who knew Mr. Knott attributed his success to his lifelong industriousness.

"His interest was work. He was a workaholic," said Joseph M. Knott, Mr. Knott's youngest brother and godson. Hobbies held less attraction, Joseph Knott said. "He wasn't interested in golf. He never belonged to any of the country clubs. He said he couldn't afford it."

There were few things Henry Knott could not afford during his adult life. His personal wealth, estimated at $150 million in 1987, included major holdings in the Arundel Corp. (before its sale the following year to Florida Rock Industries for $88 million), Henry A. Knott Homebuilders and Knott Enterprises.

Knott's companies built thousands of homes and businesses in Baltimore, including apartment buildings, rowhouses and shopping centers that dot the metropolitan area from Essex to Lansdowne and from Kingsville to Catonsville.

The reach of his family was almost as wide as that of his businesses. Mr. Knott and his wife of 67 years, Marion Burk Knott, raised 12 children. At his death, Mr. Knott left 51 grandchildren and 55 great-grandchildren.

"He had three very intense interests: his family, the Catholic Church and his work," said Rick O. Berndt, a lawyer for the Archdiocese of Baltimore who knew Mr. Knott for almost 30 years.

Cardinal William H. Keeler was visiting with the Knott family last night.

Through a spokesman, he said, "We mourn the passing of Henry Knott, whose deep faith and extraordinary charity will long be remembered. I pray that God may comfort his dear wife, Marion, and all his family. Catholic education in Maryland at every level has benefited from the vision and generosity of Henry Knott."

Mr. Knott gave millions to charity, primarily Catholic educational institutions such as Loyola College, his alma mater; the College ZTC of Notre Dame of Maryland; Mount St. Mary's College, Emmitsburg; and the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind. By 1988, the Knotts' charitable contributions had exceeded $140 million.

"He was highly disciplined and unbelievably focused about whatever he was doing. You could not distract him," said Mr. Berndt, who was a 26-year-old fledgling attorney when he met Mr. Knott.

"I was very idealistic and had many thoughts about how the world should work," Mr. Berndt recalled. "Mr. Knott was one of the ones who regularly brought me down to earth. He was great at the art of what was possible."

In 1988, Mr. Knott and his wife created a $26 million fund to benefit 31 local educational, health and cultural institutions.

Among the recipients were the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, which received $5 million, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which was given $1 million. Four Baltimore hospitals, St. Joseph, Mercy, St. Agnes and Bon Secours, each received $1 million to establish an income fund to provide medical care for the poor.

Schaefer's sorrow

"I talked to Mr. Knott's son the other day. He told me that Mr. Knott would not get out of this one," former Gov. William Donald Schaefer said. "I had a real, great sorrow overcome me. Mr. Knott was truly one of the great men of our times, perhaps of all times. He was one of the great pillars of Baltimore."

Mr. Knott's largess seemed at odds with his public persona as a gruff, demanding businessman. Yet associates insisted that he was, in private, the antithesis of that image.

Peter G. Angelos, Orioles owner and former city councilman, knew Mr. Knott for more than 25 years and took issue with what he characterized as a public impression of Mr. Knott as "a hard-nosed businessman bent on accumulating most of the money in Maryland."

Rather, Mr. Angelos said, he came to know Mr. Knott as "the very gentle person he really is," and as an individual who, in private conversation, was fond of discussing broad intellectual subjects, often quoting Plato or Aristotle to make his point.

"He's made a lot of money because he drives a hard bargain, but an honest bargain," Mr. Angelos said.

Mr. Knott was among the first to sign on when Mr. Angelos pulled together local investors to buy the Baltimore Orioles in 1993.

"He expects a lot from most people, but he expects the most from himself," said Mr. Angelos.

The late Rev. Joseph A. Sellinger, S.J., president of Loyola College, once characterized Mr. Knott as a "pussy cat" inside a gruff exterior.

Mr. Knott's own summation of his talent for accumulating money and then giving it away was made in four short sentences quoted in a Baltimore magazine profile in 1987.

"It's like catching fish," he said. "You get up early. You fill the boat up with fish. And then you give them all away before they all start to rot."

The Rev. Harold E. Ridley Jr., president of Loyola, said that Mr. Knott maintained a becoming modesty in not seeking credit for his gifts. "I think that is what made him such an extraordinary individual: His legendary generosity was tempered by an even greater humility," Father Ridley said.

The Knott family lived in a large house on Guilford's Greenway during the years in which the 12 children were growing up. Friends jokingly called the home "the Stork Club" -- partly after the posh New York restaurant of the period, but mostly because of the children.

As word spread of the dynamic household, Mrs. Knott became the subject of newspaper feature articles in which she explained how she managed her day, getting the children through breakfast and off to school, darning socks and mediating squabbles among a very energetic brood.

"My family is my club life and outside interests," she said in a 1952 interview.

Meanwhile, Mr. Knott built houses, apartment buildings and shopping centers, acquiring a reputation as a can-do contractor.

In addition to his building ventures, he became active in a broad range of business and civic activities. He served on Maryland's Advisory Committee on Higher Education in 1964, he became chairman and CEO of the Arundel Corp. and its largest stockholder in 1967 and he headed former Gov. Marvin Mandel's re-election committee in 1974.

Mr. Knott's family

In addition to his wife, Mr. Knott is survived by his children: Patricia K. Smyth, Alice K. Voelkel, Margaret K. Riehl, Henry J. Knott Jr., Catherine K. Wies, Rose Marie K. Porter, Lindsay K. Harris, Francis X. Knott, James F. Knott, Martin G. Knott, and Mary Stuart K. Rodgers, all of Baltimore; and Marion K. McIntyre, of Del Ray Beach, Fla.; brothers, John L. Knott, the Rev. Francis X. Knott, S.J., and Joseph M. Knott, all of Baltimore; 51 grandchildren and 55 great-grandchildren.

Visiting hours will be 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. today and tomorrow at St. Mary's Seminary, 5400 Roland Ave, with a funeral Mass at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St.

Burial will follow at the New Catholic Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to Loyola College, Loyola High School, Johns Hopkins Hospital, or the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.

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