Kathryn J. Bunting, the colorful and peppery proprietor of the Belmont-Hearne Hotel in Ocean City, which had been in her family for most of this century, died of breast cancer Tuesday at Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury. She was 60.
Mrs. Bunting's great-grandmother, Lizzie Hooper Hearne, bought the green and yellow hotel at Dorchester Street and the Boardwalk in 1905.
The hotel, open from April to October, began life in 1897 as a small cottage. It expanded over the years and now includes two buildings -- the 24-room Belmont, and the Hearne, next door, with 10 rooms and five apartments. Mrs. Bunting also owned a building behind the Belmont, the Nordica, with 12 rooms.
Her guests returned year after year to enjoy the front porch rockers, shaded by green awnings, and an air of unhurried gentility and quiet.
Mrs. Bunting began working there as a teen-ager, helping her mother cook and clean the hotel. She helped run the hotel with her grandmother and mother until 1972, when she took over the operation.
"My grandmother was married in one of those corner rooms in 1905 -- at 6: 30 in the morning because that's when the train left," Mrs. Bunting told The Sun in a 1995 interview.
In those days, according to Mrs. Bunting, marriages were arranged around the timetables of the Pennsylvania Railroad trains, which served the resort and carried newlyweds away on their honeymoons.
The hotel was known for its annual post-Labor Day pig roasts that Pete and Peggy Cloud, annual guests from Kennett Square, Pa., started more than 15 years ago.
The first year, as the 200-pound hog sat in the hotel's meat locker awaiting its rendezvous with the grill, Mrs. Bunting slipped in and dressed the pig in a baseball cap and gave it a deck of cards and a cigarette. She then sent a messenger to the Clouds' room at 3 a.m. to wake them up and let them know that "something was wrong with the pig."
The joke turned into a tradition of dressing the pig each year.
Also active in civic affairs, Mrs. Bunting had been a member for 20 years of the Board of Zoning Appeals in Ocean City and was a past president of the Downtown Association. She was also a past president of the Hotel-Motel Association.
Ocean City Mayor Jim Mathias described her yesterday as "a sturdy woman who represented the family side and fundamental values of Ocean City."
Mr. Mathias also respected her political savvy and bluntness.
"If you wanted an unabashed opinion of what old Ocean City -- the establishment -- thought, then you went to Kate," he said.
"She really was the salt of the earth, but when she looked you in the eye she told you what she was thinking. She didn't mince words. A dynamo, she was so strong that not even one of our famed nor'easters could blow her away."
In recognition of her long service and love of Ocean City, the mayor ordered both the Maryland and Ocean City flags to be flow at half-staff through Monday.
The former Kathryn Jones was born in Bethlehem, Pa., and graduated from Sydney Academy in Nova Scotia. She attended Goucher College and McCoy College, the old evening school at the Johns Hopkins University.
In addition to the hotel, she owned and operated Bunting's Seafood House, now closed.
She was a communicant of St. Paul Episcopal Church-By-The-Sea at Third Street and Baltimore Avenue in Ocean City, where services will be held at 1 p.m. today
She is survived by her husband of 24 years, C. Coleman Bunting Sr.; two daughters, Amy B. Rothermel and Susan B. Davis, both of Ocean City; two brothers, John B. Jones of Wheaton and William H. Jones of Gaithersburg; a sister, Mary Jones Fox of Boise, Idaho; two stepsons, C. Coleman Bunting Jr. of Piney Island, and Chester F. Bunting of Boulder, Colo.; a stepdaughter, Elaine B. Gordy of Salisbury; and nine grandchildren.
Pub Date: 9/12/97