Charles A. 'Abbie' Wainwright, former communications director and author, dies

Charles A. “Abbie” Wainwright Jr., who wrote a memoir about growing up in Baltimore and was a former director of communications and business affairs for the National Association of College and University Business Officers, died Oct. 1 from cancer at his Scottsdale, Ariz., home.

The former Severna Park resident was 83.

“He was a delightful, quiet, cerebral kind of guy who was a very smart person,” said Anne Scarlett Perkins, a longtime friend, retired attorney and former state delegate who represented the 43rd District from 1979 to 1992. “He was a very solid and interesting guy who was a wonderful husband and father.”

Charles Abbott Wainwright was born in Baltimore, the son of Charles A. Wainwright Sr., an insurance broker, and Charlotte Wagner Wainwright, a homemaker. He was raised on Reservoir Street and Park Avenue in Bolton Hill. The family later lived on Birkwood Place in Oakenshawe and then moved to Severna Park.

His maternal grandfather William Wagner, along with his brothers George Wagner, J. Earl Wagner and Augustus “Gus” Wagner, was a baseball team owner starting in the 19th century. Family members said that at one time the brothers owned the Washington Senators, Philadelphia Athletics and the Cincinnati Reds.

Mr. Wainwright “was always very interested in his family’s genealogy,” said a cousin, Robert “Bucky” Wagner of Parkville.

After graduating from the Severn School in 1953, he attended then-Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, in Westminster and received a bachelor’s degree in 1957 in English and psychology from the University of Miami in Florida.

From 1958 to 1960, he served in the Army. He was a research assistant at the Army Medical Research Laboratory at Fort Knox, Ky., and assisted in training monkeys that would later be sent into outer space.

“Of course, they had no idea what they were going to be used for,” said his wife of 50 years, the former Ronnie Degenstein, a lawyer and painter.

After being discharged in 1960, he returned to Baltimore and went to work for the Baltimore Life Insurance Co. From 1962 to 1964, he was a civilian employee and editor at the Defense Security Agency in Arlington, Va. He then took a job as an editor at ISM Publishing Co. in Coral Gables, Fla.

In 1968, Mr. Wainwright obtained a master’s degree in business from the University of Miami, and returned to Baltimore as a benefits consultant for Alexander & Alexander. He was named director of communications and business affairs in 1973 at the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

After he retired in 1985, he consulted for the association and for the American Council on Education. He was also a project manager for Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. He continued his consulting work for another year after moving to Scottsdale in 2000.

Mr. Wainwright and his wife were European travelers and enjoyed hiking through the Alps, journeying to the Far East and exploring Egypt and Israel. They spent winters in Florida.

Family members say music was an essential component of Mr. Wainwright’s life. He spent years studying piano and built a harpsichord from a kit. He had played the organ during his Army and college days, and in church.

He was a classical music and opera fan, and he and his wife were especially fond of the music of German composer Richard Wagner.

Mr. Wainwright authored two books, “How to Solve Crosswords, a Handbook,” and an unpublished memoir, “Memories of Baltimore, 1935-1962.”

Ms. Perkins, a Tuscany-Canterbury resident, recalled talking to Mr. Wainwright about their shared childhood memories.

“I was raised in Roland Park and Abbie grew up in Waverly and we talked about going to the Boulevard Movie Theater,” she said. “We talked about walking around the city when we were growing up and the old No. 8 streetcar, and what buses we rode. It was so much fun.”

In his memoir, Mr. Wainwright recalled restaurants his family patronized: Schelhase’s, which was also a favorite of H.L.Mencken’s; Miller Brothers in the 100 bock of W. Fayette St.; and the House of Welsh that sat beneath the Baltimore Transit Co.’s Guilford Avenue elevated streetcar rail.

“For special occasions at home, we would go to Dobreiner’s bakery, in the unit block of E. North Ave., and order what my family called ‘Dobie-goo cake,’” he wrote. “It was a multi-layer cake having a thick icing with ground-up nuts in it, and had a taste I have never experienced since.”

Another favorite family bakery was Fiske’s on the southwest corner of Park and North avenues.

Saturday mornings during World War II were spent in the old Waverly Theater in the 3200 block of Greenmount Ave. “At 10 o’clock we kids would line up with our 12 cents and spend two hours in other worlds,” he recalled in the memoir.

But before the featured Western was shown with Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, first came the newsreel. “The black and white images of the war, often taken with a hand-held camera, documented death and destruction: cities smoldering in ruins, ships sinking, airplanes exploding and falling to earth, lines of starving refugees, prisoners marching with hands above their heads, and dead soldiers littering battlefields.” he wrote.

He recalled that when the lamplighter came around at dinnertime with his wooden ladder to light the gas lamps on his street, “all the children disappeared inside simultaneously, it seemed.”

“The Baltimore of all those years is just a memory now,” he wrote, “and generations later than mine will never know the city’s former pleasures.”

Mr. Wainwright was a member of Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park. Plans for funeral services to be held at Arlington National Cemetery are incomplete.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Wainwright is survived by his son, Michael S. Wainwright of Great Barrington, Mass.; a daughter, Lisa S. Wainwright of Chicago; and three grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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