Jerome S. McDermott, a retired senior Rouse Co. executive credited with many innovations of the modern shopping mall, died of heart failure Monday at his Ellicott City home. He was 81 and a former resident of Towson.
As Rouse's director of property operations, he ran 22 malls and opened the retailing landmarks of Mondawmin and Columbia malls and Harborplace. The Baltimore native also was a founder of the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group with 40,000 members.
"Many of the policies and procedures of the shopping-center industry today are a direct result of Jerry's leadership," said Tony Hawkins, former Harborplace general manager and a longtime co-worker. "He is universally acknowledged as a founder of the modern shopping center - and he was a great guy to work for. I still keep a picture of him on my desk."
Raised in East Baltimore, he was a graduate of two Roman Catholic seminaries - St. Charles in Catonsville and St. Mary's on Paca Street, where he studied theology and philosophy. He decided against becoming a priest, joined the Navy during World War II, then earned his master's degree in social work at the Catholic University of America in Washington.
While working in Baltimore for the Red Cross' disaster relief division, he met Willard Rouse, older brother of developer James W. Rouse, who recruited Mr. McDermott for the Rouse Co.
In May 1956, he was named manager of Mondawmin Mall while it was under construction. Friends said that his experiences at Mondawmin - the city's largest shopping center when it was built - provided firsthand lessons in what made a large mall work.
"He loved Mondawmin Mall," Mr. Hawkins said. "He learned so much of what he knew and later practiced from that experience."
"He set up the norms of what makes a shopping center tick," said Lauren B. "Monk" Askew, former Rouse design director. "He would go on the roof of Mondawmin and observe where customers parked and how long they stayed.
"He established the rule that the highest turnover parking spaces are within 300 feet of the front door - and that the least likely spot to be filled would be at the diagonal corner of a department store building."
"Jim Rouse had the vision, but it was Jerry who really took it a step forward," said W. Scott Ditch, a retired Rouse official who lives on the Eastern Shore.
"Jerry saw the big picture - it came out of his work with the Red Cross and his deep religious faith. He got the merchants all working together so when a new center opened, it made a grand debut, at least 80 percent leased and in apple-pie order," Mr. Ditch said.
"Before Jerry came along, mall owners just took out the trash and collected rents," Mr. Ditch said. "He changed all that."
A founder of the shopping center council in 1957, he was its chairman from 1965 to 1966. He spoke at its conferences in various countries, and was known for his booming voice when delivering observations on topics from the most effective colors of paint to the layout of parking-lot spaces.
After he retired about 15 years ago, Mr. McDermott became active in Our Father's Divine Work and the Missionaries for the Eucharistic Christ, both Roman Catholic organizations. He also enjoyed singing.
In 1949, Mr. McDermott married Catharine Ann Boudren, who died in 1967.
A Mass of Christian burial was offered yesterday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.
Surviving are his wife of 30 years, the former Virginia Shriver; two sons, Raymond Vincent McDermott of Wheaton, Ill., and Patrick Joseph McDermott of Baltimore; two daughters, Mary Josephine Albright of Damascus and Margaret Ann Kidd of Bay Harbor, Mich.; a brother, Joseph S. McDermott of Houston; and seven grandchildren.