Robert Leo Blatchley, an attorney and former news reporter who was an accomplished Baltimore raconteur, died Thursday at Union Memorial Hospital of complications from earlier open-heart surgery. The Towson resident was 68.
"He was a man who had nothing but friends," said former Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.
Born in Baltimore, Mr. Blatchley grew up on Whitridge Avenue and later Cator Avenue. In a 1994 Sun article, he recalled how his father, on leave from the Navy during World War II, roused him in the middle of the night to go see local history in the making: The nearby wood Oriole Park grandstands were burning in a spectacular fire along 29th Street.
"He got me out of bed and hoisted me on his shoulders," Mr. Blatchley recounted. "[My father] had on his dress whites. That's the way I remember it. He wore his dress whites to a fire."
He attended Blessed Sacrament Parochial School and spent time at City College and Loyola High School before graduating from Forest Park High School, where he earned a letter on the football team.
He later jokingly told friends that he was a "a quality control inspector for the school system" because of the three institutions he attended.
Sports columnist John Steadman encouraged him to try reporting at the old Baltimore News-Post. He worked for a year in the paper's sports department before serving in the Army. From 1964 to 1968, he was a WBAL radio reporter and visited Vietnam twice to tape Christmas interviews with soldiers. He also worked at WITH-radio and a station in York, Pa.
From 1973 to 1980, he was a News American reporter and worked beats on the paper's city desk. He also did spot news reports for WTOP radio and was a Baltimore magazine contributor.
While handling reporting duties during the day, he attended the University of Baltimore and was a graduate of its School of Law. He was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1974.
"He immediately ingratiated himself with people and had a touch for finding the hopeless and the helpless, both as a reporter and as a public defender," said John H. Doud III, a childhood friend. "He never passed judgment. He could meet with criminals or social outcasts, but was never condescending."
From 1980 to 1985, he was a public defender in the Baltimore City courts system and later became a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. attorney before retiring in 2001. He then established a private law practice.
"Bob's main interest in life was people, and he loved his family above all else," said his wife, the former Terri Bracken. "He found a human-interest story in each person he met."
His wife described him as "an encyclopedia of Baltimore knowledge" who learned the city as a beat reporter and maintained his interest in it. She said he was an accomplished storyteller and a creative writer.
Mr. Blatchley maintained numerous friendships and met weekly at meals with a group of his longtime colleagues, many of them from the Waverly neighborhood where he was raised.
For many years, he was a referee with the Southern Lacrosse Officials Association and the Maryland Board of Football Officials. He was a lifelong high school sports enthusiast and followed young athletes as they went on to college. In the 1980s and 1990s, he also did news spots for WBAL radio at the Preakness, the National Collegiate Lacrosse Championships and on election nights.
He read several newspapers daily, and also magazines and books. He also celebrated his Irish ancestry at parades and festivals.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, 740 N. Calvert St., where he was a member.
Survivors include his wife of three years; a son, John Blatchley of Parkton; two daughters, Mary Frances Box of Hunt Valley and Kathleen Blatchley of San Diego; a brother, Eugene Blatchley of Annapolis; and four grandchildren. A marriage to Pat McKenney ended in divorce.