R. Richard Rudolph, founder of the Towson Bootery shoe store and whose lifelong interest in politics led him to be dubbed the "unofficial mayor of Towson," died Monday at University of Maryland Medical Center from complications after surgery. The Pikesville resident was 85.
Born and raised on South Bond Street in Baltimore, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, Mr. Rudolph was a 1934 graduate of City College.
An amiable man with a gift for gab and salesmanship, Mr. Rudolph began selling shoes in the 1930s. He worked for Felser Brothers, Big Boys, Irvin's Shoes and Lowenthal's before establishing Towson Bootery in 1948 at 411 York Road, and then at Kenilworth Mall.
Mr. Rudolph retired in 1980, but until 1996 he remained a consultant to the business that continues to be operated by a son, Alex J. Rudolph of Owings Mills.
For years, it was the place where parents took their children to be fitted for their first pair of shoes and where Mr. Rudolph patiently attended them. He rewarded them with toys and other gifts.
The store's fixtures included a vintage NCR cash register and a 12-foot stuffed polar bear - a refugee from a closed downtown nightclub.
Because Mr. Rudolph was a political junkie, he covered a storage room with photographs of most of Maryland's better-known - and not-so-known - political movers and shakers from the 20th century.
Mr. Rudolph was appointed a justice of the peace by Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin in 1954, serving for 12 years. Then, from 1966 to 1984, he was a member of the Baltimore County Human Relations Commission. At his death, he was completing a second four-year term as a commissioner on the Baltimore County Liquor Board.
"He was a personal politician and the mayor of Towson," said state Comptroller and former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who gave him the mayoral designation. "He was one big-hearted guy who gave away shoes if folks couldn't afford them."
Former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a Republican, and Democratic Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger - vying for their respective parties' nomination in the 2nd District congressional race - lamented the loss of Mr. Rudolph yesterday.
Mrs. Bentley, a longtime friend, said Mr. Rudolph loved and was adept at "backroom politics" and "could tell you about every political shenanigan that had happened in Baltimore for the last century.
"They were always great tales, very accurate, and sometimes he'd add a little extra Rudy touch to it," she said with a laugh.
"Dick was a very kind and generous man, and his work at the Towson Bootery made him a legend in the area," Mr. Ruppersberger said. "He was a great friend and confidant who cared about his community, family and friends."
Mr. Rudolph delighted in delivering green bagels to his friends at Christmas and packages to the needy, often accompanied by longtime friend and Baltimore radio personality Tom Marr, who dressed as Santa Claus. "He always looked out for his fellow man," Mr. Marr said.
Mr. Rudolph was a founder of Citizens Outreach for Baltimore County, which helped feed the hungry, and was a member of the Yetz Grotto Masonic Lodge and Beth Tfiloh congregation.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. tomorrow at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville.
In addition to his son, Mr. Rudolph is survived by his wife of 56 years, the former Doris Lurie; three daughters, Gail Horwitz and Diane Becker, both of Owings Mills, and Lynda Behnke of Annapolis; and three grandchildren.