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Benjamin L. King, 77, accountant, mentor

Benjamin Louis King, Maryland's first black certified public accountant who mentored generations of African-American business owners, died of kidney failure Tuesday in Maryland General Hospital. He was 77 and had most recently lived in Charles Village.

Known to friends as "Benny" and to those whom he mentored as "The Dean," the Baltimore business leader overcame formidable obstacles to build his own firm and establish an enduring professional network. His professional life was marked by the racism he encountered during his early career and, family and friends said, left him determined to protect other professionals from similar experiences.

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"He made us believe we could be anything," said Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, who credits Mr. King with launching her career.

Mr. King was born and raised in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Dunbar High School and received a bachelor's degree in accounting from Virginia State College in 1949.

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After college, he served in the Army during the Korean War, assigned to the Army Audit Agency. When he returned home, he took graduate courses in accounting at American University, which qualified him to sit for the CPA examination in Washington.

Before he could take the certification exam, however, the city of Washington required that he work for two years. The requirement was a Catch-22 for a budding black accountant. He couldn't find a job in any of the white-owned firms.

His son said he often told the story of what happened next. Mr. King found a single established black accountant in the Washington. He went to see him and asked for work. The accountant told Mr. King that to hire him would launch a potential competitor. So, he turned Mr. King down. "After that, he said he would never take that attitude. He said he was going help everybody he could," said Martin King of Baltimore, the youngest of Mr. King's five children.

Mr. King then learned that Maryland did not have a work requirement for the CPA exam. So, he moved with his wife and children to his uncle's house in Seat Pleasant. On June 27, 1957, he became the first African-American to pass the CPA examination in Maryland, according to the Maryland Association of CPAs.

Martin King said that in the next decade, as more black-owned businesses opened, his father became the primary source for them on financial advice. He eventually moved to Baltimore and opened an office on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mr. King stayed true to his pledge when a second black CPA, Art Reynolds, began working in the region. Reynolds became his professional partner and a friend.

He also ushered young students into the field. Ms. Pratt recalls that when she met Mr. King as a student, he persuaded her to abandon her plans to become math teacher and work toward an accounting degree.

"I can't thank him enough," she said. "I love what I do. I'm forever indebted to him for having changed my mind."

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Mr. King also taught at Morgan State University and worked to have it recognized by the CPA Board so that students there could qualify for the state CPA exam. Once they graduated, Mr. King made it a practice to hire the young accountants or help find them work elsewhere.

In 1973, he founded the Baltimore chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants and used it as a platform to help younger professionals learn and network.

All his children were weaned on accounting, from learning to use the adding machine to helping prepare tax returns. Four of the five eventually became accountants. The fifth became a finance director.

Three of his children now run King & King Associates, the Baltimore-based firm that their father built. "We could see the entrepreneurial spirit, the benefits of owning your own firm," his son said.

Mr. King was appointed to the Maryland State Board of Public Accountancy in 1969, and later served as chairman. He also worked in several capacities for the Industrial Bank of Washington and in 2004 retired from its board.

A funeral Mass will be offered at noon tomorrow at St. James Episcopal Church, 1020 W. Lafayette Ave.

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In addition to his son, he is survived by two other sons, Benjamin King Jr. of Baltimore and Anthony King of Ellicott City; two daughters, Pamela King Smith of Randallstown and Kara King Bess of Baltimore; his brother, William King Jr. of Washington; 11 grandchildren; and longtime companion Pamela Banks of Baltimore. His marriage to Gloria Irene Wood ended in divorce in 1987.


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