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William J. McCarthy, 75, partner with city law firm


William J. McCarthy, former managing partner of one of Baltimore's top law firms who held prominent roles in Baltimore banking and as chairman of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, died of an embolism Friday after knee surgery at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 75.

A Baltimore native, Mr. McCarthy was a 1949 graduate of Gilman School, where he played football and wrestled.

While attending Dartmouth College, in Hanover, N.H., he founded the school's rugby club. He graduated in 1953 with a bachelor's degree in English.

In 1954, during his studies at Harvard Law School, Mr. McCarthy married Beverly Sue Davis, whom he had met years earlier at a high school dance in Baltimore.

After graduating cum laude from Harvard in 1956, Mr. McCarthy returned to Baltimore. He joined the law firm of Venable Baetjer and Howard, now Venable LLP, in 1958.

He left in 1960 to gain experience as an assistant Maryland attorney general but soon returned to Venable and stayed until his retirement in 2002.

"He was a very fine corporate lawyer - very shrewd, but gentlemanly," said James L. Shea, the chairman at Venable who succeeded Mr. McCarthy as managing partner in 1994.

Former Mercantile Bankshares Chairman H. Furlong Baldwin, who was a schoolboy with Mr. McCarthy, said in a prepared statement that his old friend "has worked with me on various matters for the Mercantile Bank. And ... he always did things in a gentlemanly way. And for Bill, this was the only way."

At Venable, Mr. McCarthy represented the owners of the A.S. Abell Co. in 1986 when they sold the Baltimore Sun Co. to Times Mirror Co. He headed Venable's corporate department for several years and enjoyed recruiting young lawyers.

"He had a personal touch and a real freshness and enthusiasm for what he did, and he was able to share that with young lawyers," Mr. Shea said.

Mr. McCarthy was a trustee emeritus at Gilman School and had served a five-year term as president of the school's board from 1975 to 1980.

He served from 1994 to 2004 on the board of the Maryland Historical Society and was instrumental in efforts to revitalize Kiplin Hall - the ancestral home in Yorkshire, England, of Maryland's founding Calvert family - for use by University of Maryland students.

"He was very supportive with financial donations, and with demonstrating [Kiplin Hall's] importance to the state government," said former society Chairman Jack Symington "Jay" Griswold.

From 1996 until 2005, Mr. McCarthy served as chairman of Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. He played a key role in the development of Bayview's Southeast Baltimore campus.

Mr. McCarthy and his family spent many summer months at a lakeside home in the Adirondack Mountains. There, over 15 years, he decided to climb all 46 major Adirondack peaks over 4,000 feet. It did not always go well, his family said.

"He wasn't always very comfortable climbing because he did suffer some joint debilitation in his last years," said his daughter, Mary Sue McCarthy of Baltimore. But "even when he was finishing his peaks, he always put one foot in front of the other and never complained; he just carried on. I take that with me," she said.

Mr. McCarthy climbed despite a well-founded fear of heights. In 1983, he was nearing the summit of East Dix Mountain, in a trackless wilderness area in Essex County, N.Y., when he lost his footing and fell down a rock slide, said a son, Stephen D. McCarthy of Atlanta.

Despite broken ribs and teeth, a punctured lung, a dislocated shoulder, cuts and bruises, he gave his climbing companions a "thumbs-up" signal. And then he joined them on an hours-long hike, much of it in darkness, out of the woods.

During his father's 10 days in the hospital, Stephen McCarthy visited and expressed alarm at the injuries.

"And he said, 'No, look around me in this hospital, and there are a lot of people who are sick. I'm not sick, just hurt, and I'm going to get better,'" his son recalled. "To me, that's a story of personal courage and bravery."

Another son, Michael J. McCarthy of Baltimore, said his father "really suffered for the last four years" from rheumatoid arthritis and repeated joint surgeries. "And even when he was in such discomfort and faced with so many medical challenges, he was always concerned about other people."

Mr. McCarthy returned to East Dix Mountain years after his accident and finished the climb. In 1993, he became a member of the Adirondack 46ers, open only to hikers who have scaled all of the 46 tallest peaks.

Mr. McCarthy had a lifelong interest in athletics and was an avid fan of the Baltimore Orioles, Ravens and Colts.

He also enjoyed time with his family and dogs and time on a family farm near Virginia's Shenandoah mountains.

"They had so much fun together. My God, could they sing and dance; they would just light up a room," Mary Sue McCarthy said of her parents. "They could sing all these songs from the '20s, '30s and '40s, in perfect harmony, and my father could play the ukulele and make everyone laugh."

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., where Mr. McCarthy was a longtime member.

In addition to his wife and three children, Mr. McCarthy is survived by seven grandchildren.


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