Kenneth H. England, whose portrayal of "Uncle Sam" at patriotic events made him well known to Marylanders during the past two decades, died of a heart attack Thursday at Harbor Hospital Center. He was 77.
England, a retired food service manager, sported a white goatee and bore an uncanny resemblance to the patriotic figure -- particularly when wearing his costume of striped trousers, starred vest, top hat and tails. He carried a red, white and blue cane.
"There may be many other Uncle Sams, but there was only one Ken England as Uncle Sam," said Louis V. Koerber, the Baltimore paint company owner who originated the "Pause for the Pledge" that has become part of Flag Day celebrations in Baltimore and across the nation.
"He looked the part and did everything he could to encourage patriotism and to encourage love of the United States of America," Mr. Koerber said.
Mr. England, who lived in Brooklyn Park, could be found at events ranging from Fourth of July parades to ceremonies at veterans' cemeteries, always proudly handing out flags and buttons to children, said longtime friend Samuel G. Kemp.
"He was just a spirited American who wanted others to have his same spirit," said Mr. Kemp, owner of Cedar Hill Florists in Brooklyn Park. He said Mr. England will be buried in his Uncle Sam costume.
Born in Baltimore's Brooklyn neighborhood, Mr. England lived within the same five-square-mile area all his life, said his daughter, Shirley R. England. He lived in the same Brooklyn Park house for four decades with his daughter and his wife of 55 years, the former Dorothy R. Sallin.
He served for more than three years in the Army's 77th Infantry Division during World War II, earning a Purple Heart and Bronze Star during fighting in the Pacific, his daughter said.
Upon his return, he was a catering manager for the now-defunct A.L. Mathias food service company until 1967. He took a similar job with the Smithsonian Institution's Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge, where he worked until he retired in 1984.
While at the latter job, he decided to grow his goatee "as a lark," his daughter recalled. "His boss liked it -- he thought it made him look continental -- so he kept it."
It wasn't until the 1976 Bicentennial celebration that Mr. England began portraying Uncle Sam. Dressed in costume to greet the Freedom Train as it passed through Baltimore, he was assumed to be a member of the celebration. Many people shook his hand and took his picture.
He took to his role as Uncle Sam, making up to 125 appearances a year -- for patriotic occasions and at such places as schools and senior centers.
He always wore his military medals on the jacket of his Uncle Sam suit, and the walls of a bedroom at his home are covered with plaques and pictures of him in costume -- including a framed page from the Congressional Record expressing appreciation for his patriotic efforts.
Even after having both knees replaced, Mr. England continued to make occasional appearances as Uncle Sam.
"I stand for one thing," Mr. England said in a 1995 interview. "That's flag and patriotism."
In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include a brother, Robert E. England of Annapolis.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. today at McCully Funeral Home of Brooklyn, 237 E. Patapsco Ave.