George Washington Dexter, the founder of a 59-year-old Baltimore heating and ventilation firm and an avid sailor died of chronic lung disease Wednesday at his Roland Park home. He was 89.
Mr. Dexter ran the Mount Washington-based Dexter Co. with his wife, and the couple raised four daughters to become successful businesswomen in technical fields.
"He was remarkably ahead of his time in his understanding of what women were capable of," said his daughter Susan D. Cesare of North Baltimore, president of the HVAC reseller and consulting firm.
Mr. Dexter was born and raised in Northwest Baltimore and graduated in 1937 from Polytechnic Institute. He studied engineering at the Johns Hopkins University for two years before enlisting in the Army. After two years as an intelligence officer, he received a medical discharge because of amblyopia, commonly known as lazy eye.
Back at Hopkins, he met his future wife, the former Patricia Ruth Stockum of Guilford, one of the first female engineering students at the Charles Village campus. Mrs. Dexter died in 2004.
Concerned that Hopkins' mechanical engineering program was not strong enough, Mr. Dexter and Stockum both transferred to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. He received a bachelor's degree in engineering from Cornell in 1944, and she earned a degree in mathematics.
After working for about two years for the Campbell Soup Co. in Camden, N.J., Mr. Dexter returned to Baltimore, settling in Roland Park. In the late 1940s, air conditioning was one of the "hot areas" of mechanical engineering, said another daughter, Katherine D. Crothall of Gladwyne, Pa., who is a venture capitalist and founder of several medical technology companies.
In 1949, Mr. Dexter began his company. After the birth of their first daughter, Elizabeth - who is now a marketing executive and resident of Merion, Pa. - Patricia Dexter joined the firm, which the couple ran together until Mr. Dexter's retirement in 1984.
"I think she was bored stiff being a housewife," Ms. Crothall said of her mother. "My mother was a generation ahead of herself, but so was my father. ... He not only looked at his wife as his full equal, he raised his daughters to be self-reliant, to be able to change tires, use tools."
When not working together, the Dexter family sailed the waters of the Chesapeake together aboard Mr. Dexter's 40-foot wooden sailboat.
"He and my mom passed onto all of us a love for the bay and the ocean," said daughter Barbara D. Agerton of Baltimore, a vice president at the Dexter Co.
Mr. Dexter's only son, Robert B. Dexter, died in a sailing accident in 1974, while a student at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
In addition to sailing, Mr. Dexter enjoyed golfing at the Baltimore County Club, playing bridge, reading and cooking. He kept a vacation home in Cape May, N.J., and later in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
A memorial service is scheduled for today at St. David's Episcopal Church at 4700 Roland Ave.
In addition to his daughters, Mr. Dexter is survived by a sister, Mary Tompkins of Lewes, Del.; and six grandchildren.