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James L. Sinclair dies at 81

James L. Sinclair, a retired Baltimore businessman who was president for nearly four decades of the charitable Sheridan Foundation, which aids schools and cultural organizations, died Sunday of a heart attack at St. Joseph Medical Center.

The Reisterstown resident was 81.

Mr. Sinclair, the son of a Bethlehem Steel Corp. engineer and a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Highlandtown and Dundalk.

After graduating from Towson High School in 1946, he enlisted in the Navy, where he attained the rank of petty officer before being discharged in 1949.

While attending the University of Maryland, College Park, where he earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1953, he was a member of the Air Force ROTC.

Mr. Sinclair began working summers in 1952 for the American Bank Stationery Co. in Baltimore, one of the country's largest printers of checks and bank stationery that was established in 1927 by Thomas Bradford Sheridan. The company was owned by his future wife's family. His wife of 34 years, the former Elizabeth Sheridan, died in 1987.

He eventually was offered a job as a sales trainee and subsequently became vice president of sales, secretary and a member of the board of directors.

When the company was purchased by American Standard Inc., Mr. Sinclair was appointed vice president and later president of the company's graphic arts division.

Mr. Sinclair had served as a director of Union Trust Bancorp and the Greater Baltimore Committee.

He retired in the 1970s.

In 1974, Mr. Sinclair succeeded his brother-in-law, Thomas M. Sheridan, as president of the Sheridan Foundation, which had been founded in 1962 by Thomas D. Sheridan and Elizabeth M. Sheridan.

The Sheridan Foundation, with assets of nearly $20 million, supports private secondary education and schools in the Baltimore area, as well as the Walters Art Museum, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Maryland Science Center.

During Mr. Sinclair's tenure, he initiated a scholarship program designed to help middle-income families that might not otherwise qualify for assistance under other programs.

Sister Charmaine Krohe, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, has been headmistress of Mother Seton Academy, a tuition-free school for financially disadvantaged students, for the past three years. The school moved from its former Fells Point home to the old St. Ann's parochial school at Greenmount Avenue and 22nd Street last summer.

"I first met Mr. Sinclair and his wife when were completing a capital campaign in order to move to our new school. They were both delightful and particularly generous, and we developed a wonderful working relationship," said Sister Charmaine.

"They were very interested in quality education for girls and boys in Catholic schools, and they helped make our dream become a reality in moving to Greenmount Avenue. They believed in making a difference in the life of a child," she said.

Sister Charmaine said that Mr. Sinclair was never too busy to take her calls.

"I could pick up the phone anytime and call him. He was always very approachable," she said. "He also felt what we were trying to do here was important and significant work. He did so much for our school and children."

Mr. Sinclair's philanthropy came "without strings attached," Sister Charmaine said, and he did not seek public recognition in terms of rooms or programs being named after him.

"He was a wonderfully kind and humble man, and Mother Seton Academy is very grateful to him and the foundation," she said.

"When we needed him, he was always there," recalled Maureen E. Walsh, headmistress of Bryn Mawr School.

"He also had great affection for Bryn Mawr because his daughter and granddaughter had been students here, and he supported us in our many projects," Mrs. Walsh said Thursday. "He worked and encouraged us to get better and better."

For years, "we benefited from both his knowledge and philanthropy," Mrs. Walsh added. "His death is a terrible loss because he had done so many wonderful things."

In 2006, Mr. Sinclair was awarded the President's Medal from Loyola University Maryland.

An avid golfer, he enjoyed organizing the Sinclair Open, an annual family golf tournament.

He also was an accomplished woodworker and liked building furniture.

Mr. Sinclair was a member of the Maryland Club and the Baltimore Country Club.

His second wife, the former Mary Winifred Brady Starz, to whom he was married for 22 years, died in February.

He was a communicant of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, 65 Sacred Heart Lane in Glyndon, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. today.

Surviving are three sons, John B. Sinclair of Guilford, Thomas Bradford Sinclair of St. Louis and Mark D. Sinclair of Painter, Va.; a daughter, Mary Beth Moehring of Houston; three stepsons, Victor H. Starz of Towson, Edward J.B. Starz of Denver and Thomas B. Starz of Palm Gardens, Fla.; a stepdaughter, Mary Starz Cole of Baldwin; a sister, Cynthia Sturm of Lutherville; 14 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Joanne Sinclair, died in 2002.

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