James Mueller, who came out of a rough Southeast Baltimore neighborhood to become the head of a prominent furniture company, died Wednesday of brain cancer at his home in Pembroke Pines, Fla. He was 60.
Born a cab driver's son in O'Donnell Heights, Mr. Mueller graduated from Patterson High School before volunteering for military service with a number of his friends.
"We were raised in the projects," said his friend Bill Becker, with whom he joined the Navy in 1956. "Nobody had any money, but it wasn't important. We were among a lot of large, hard-working families. A bunch of us went into the military to get on with our lives. Jimmy just went a little further than the rest of us. He was quite the success story."
After leaving the Navy in 1959, Mr. Mueller joined Black & Decker Corp. and began taking business courses at the University of Baltimore.
"He used to tell me he would go to classes in the afternoon, sleep in his car for a few hours, then work the midnight shift at Black & Decker," said his son, Kurt Mueller of Perry Hall. "In just a few years, he started going through management training programs at the company."
Mr. Mueller graduated from the university in 1964 and was director of manufacturing at Black & Decker's Hampstead plant until 1984, when he retired.
In 1985, he joined Brown Jordan Co., a high-end patio-furniture manufacturer in El Monte, Calif. In 1989, he became president of the company.
The company, which had foundered, prospered under Mr. Mueller's direction, said former colleague Larry Schroeder, comptroller of Pompeii Furniture Industries Inc. in Miami. "He was very detail-oriented, very knowledgeable, and easy to get along with."
When the company was sold in 1995, Mr. Mueller left to become president of the Pompeii company, where he worked until last year. His son said he was looking for another challenge last year when he was diagnosed with cancer.
Mr. Mueller traveled and enjoyed playing golf. But mainly, his son said, he was devoted to his family. "Every decision he ever made was for his family," his son said. "He was very generous."
A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Rita Roman Catholic Church at Dunmanway and Dunglow Road in Dundalk.
Other survivors include his wife of 35 years, the former Sherian Lee Draper; a daughter, Michelle Lynn Snyder of Hampstead; two brothers, George Mueller of Essex and William Mueller of Littlestown, Pa.; two sisters, Audrey Podowski of Ocean City and Patricia Palmer of Vero Beach, Fla.; and one granddaughter, Ann Madison Snyder of Hampstead.
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