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Arnold Wilkes, 83, directed public relations at GBMC


Arnold Lawrence Wilkes, a former public relations director for Greater Baltimore Medical Center and a former radio and television producer and performer, died Sunday of pneumonia at Maryland General Hospital. He was 83.

The longtime Bolton Hill resident was appointed in 1961 to the public relations position at GBMC, a position he held until 1978, when he was appointed assistant director for community relations at the National Aquarium. He retired from the aquarium several years later.

A witty and urbane man, Mr. Wilkes began his radio career in the late 1930s working for radio station WGY in Schenectady, N.Y.

One evening shortly after beginning his career, he was told he was going on the air to do the evening news. He approached the standing microphone in the studio, nervously carrying a sheaf of papers.

"I was on the air again doing a broadcast and winding up with a weather report which said very clearly, printed in front of me: 'There's a cold mass of air moving in from Canada,' except I announced, 'There's a cold mare's a-- moving in from Canada,' " he wrote in his unpublished memoirs completed last month.

"And I signed off with great applause, not knowing what I had said. When I looked up, I saw the control man, jumping around like a puppet on a string, slapping his thigh and acting very crazy. It didn't take very long to find out what had happened," he wrote.

During World War II, Mr. Wilkes enlisted in the Army Air Force and served at a military installation in Georgia, teaching Morse code and working as an announcer on the post radio station.

At war's end, he returned to WGY and was assigned to the station's newly established television station. He also taught TV production at Syracuse University.

In 1950, he joined WBAL-TV in Baltimore as head of its public service department. At WBAL, Mr. Wilkes produced a nationally televised classroom instruction series as well as features on Mother Seton, the Constellation and the Walters Art Gallery that received numerous industry awards.

"He was a very capable man who, as director of community services, arranged all of the religious and school programming at the station," said Brent Gunts, Baltimore broadcasting pioneer and former WBAL general manager.

Mr. Wilkes was a president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and served on its national board with Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace. He was a president of the Baltimore Public Relations Council and the Public Relations Association.

In addition to his classes at Syracuse University, he taught drama, speech and television production at Middlebury College, the Johns Hopkins University and University of Baltimore.

He was born and raised in Williamsport, Pa., where he graduated from high school. He earned his bachelor's degree from Hobart College and his master's degree from Cornell University.

He was an active member of the St. George's Society and performed in Paint and Powder Club and Baltimore Opera Company productions. He also was a docent at the Walters Art Gallery.

He was married in 1953 to the former Mary Downey, who died in 1980. The couple had no children.

No services are planned.

Mr. Wilkes is survived by a brother, Ernest C. Wilkes of LaPorte, Colo.; a nephew, Craig K. Wilkes of Danville, Va.; and a niece, Diane Wilkes Warren of Charlotte, N.C.

Pub Date: 10/07/98

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