Herbert I. Scher, an innovator in the plastic laminate industry who was active in Baltimore's arts community, died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease May 20 in Boca Raton, Fla. The Pikesville resident was 79.
Mr. Scher was born in Cincinnati and attended schools in Rochester, N.Y. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1951 with a degree in chemical engineering and began working as an engineer at National Plastics Products Co. in Odenton. He stayed with the company as it twice changed hands and retired in 1985 as vice president and part owner of its latest incarnation, Nevamar Corp.
Mr. Scher was responsible for numerous innovations in the plastic laminate industry, such as products used in kitchen cabinets and counters, and he held more than 20 patents in the field. In 2004, he was inducted into the Decorative and Industrial Laminate Hall of Fame of the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry.
His wife of 55 years, Marilyn, said Mr. Scher considered one of his greatest accomplishments to be his focus on equality in the workplace.
"He worked very hard for equality at his company, for the advancement of women and black people," she said. "He was very pleased with what ultimately came about there, and the rest of the world. In his small way, he did the best he could."
Mr. Scher was a trustee of Baltimore Hebrew University, a board member of the Baltimore Opera Company, a governing member of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and a supporter of the Walters Art Museum, to which he and his wife recently donated a collection of pottery dating to 350 B.C.
At Baltimore Hebrew University, Mr. Scher was a driving force behind an effort to digitize the school's library so its books could be included in a collection along with other area colleges. Trustees could count on Mr. Scher to be an objective but compassionate voice, said a fellow trustee, Herschel Langenthal.
"He was a very objective, clear-thinking guy, and I never saw his passions overtake his analytical sense and objectivity," Mr. Langenthal said. "He was eminently fair, and everybody got an even start with him."
He was described as a voracious reader, enjoying science fiction works such as Analog Science Fiction & Fact magazine, and developing a strong knowledge of Roman history.
"We took a lot of trips for that specific purpose, to go through areas where there were remnants of the Roman civilization," said Mrs. Scher.
Said his daughter Ann Scher of Potomac: "He was really a very intellectually curious person. He was interested in everything."
For the past decade, Mr. Scher and his wife split their time between Pikesville and Boca Raton.
In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Susan Keeney of Golden, Colo.; a son, Douglas Scher of Boca Raton; two brothers, Art Scher of Los Gatos, Calif., and Robert Scher of Albany, N.Y.; a sister, Marilyn Greben of Toronto; and six grandchildren.