John Faw, owner of educational toy stores, dies

John Edward Faw Sr. of Timonium, who owned a chain of educational toy stores, died at St. Joseph’s Medical Center June 6 after breaking his hip. He was 84.

Born in Imperial, Pa., on July 10, 1933, to Hilary Atkins Faw, an accountant, and Rachel Decker Faw, a homemaker and former nurse, Mr. Faw was the seventh of eight children. As a toddler he won “The Most Beautiful Baby” contest at the Joseph Horne Department store — an honor that his siblings likely teased him about for many years, said his daughter Ellen Faw Henderson of Fripp Island, S.C.

In 1943, Mr. Faw moved to Baltimore, where his dad worked as a tax accountant for the U.S. Treasury Department, visiting distilleries to determine taxes on whiskey, according to a family biography.

A high school basketball player, Mr. Faw graduated from Towson Catholic High School in 1951. As part of the school’s alumni association, he fought against its closure in 2009.

He spent much of his free time working. While in high school, he worked at the American Brewery, Wells Liquor Store and as a short-order cook at his brother’s drugstore in Ocean City. In college, he sold copies of Encyclopedia Britannica and Reader’s Digest while studying business at Loyola College of Maryland.

“We met early freshman year of college,” said his friend Chuck Bauermann, 85. “We immediately became real good friends.”

Bauermann was drawn to a man he looked up to — both in stature (Mr. Faw was 6-foot-3-inches tall) — and because of his strong moral character. “I never saw a character defect in him,” said Mr. Bauermann.

Mr. Faw, who friends called “Jack” and grandchildren later called “Poppy,” was regarded as a gentleman who kept his promises to others. He and Mr. Bauermann only occasionally skipped class at Loyola to go play basketball.

The friends went on double dates with their future wives. As years went on, their families became friends, too. Mr. Bauermann, an accountant, sometimes helped out at Mr. Faw’s stores.

“I guess the good times we shared in were the family baptisms, or maybe just being together,” said Mr. Bauermann. “Nothing exciting, just good solid relationships.”

Mr. Faw married Patricia Turk in July 1954, two weeks after receiving his draft notice in the mail. For two years, they lived in Germany while Mr. Faw served in the U.S. Army.

“He always called it our second honeymoon,” said Mrs. Faw. “We had an apartment off the base and we would travel when he had leave time. So it really was a fun time.”

When they returned to Baltimore, Mr. Faw “hadn’t changed,” said Mr. Bauermann. “He was the same from the day I met him to the day he passed. Gentle.”

After completing his senior year at Loyola College, Mr. Faw became a linen buyer at Stewart’s department store before moving with his family to Phoenix, Ariz., for a similar position at Rhode’s department store. In 1964, Mr. and Mrs. Faw, along with their three children, returned to Baltimore, where Mr. Faw took a job with a placemat manufacturer.

Despite his many jobs, he longed for the autonomy of running his own business, said Ms. Henderson. “He always wanted to be his own man and not working for someone else.”

In 1965, Mr. Faw purchased a small division of the Lycett Co. known as the kindergarten department, and founded School and Pre-School Supply Center, headquartered in Catonsville. In 1979, after years of research and preparation, he opened Learning How, a shop for specialty educational toys at the Shops at Kenilworth, then known as Kenilworth Bazaar. A second shop opened in Annapolis in 1991 in addition to other locations through the years.

At work, he could be heard whistling in his store. “He was a wonderful businessman,” said Mrs. Faw. “If he told you he was going to do something, you could bet on him. He was adamant about things that he promised you. He loved his business and made it a wonderful success.”

For two years, Mr. Faw served as regional director of the National School Supply & Equipment Association, a trade organization now known as the Education Market Association.

He wore a suit every day to work and “90 percent of the time he was wearing a bow tie,” said Ms. Henderson. “That was just his signature. And he wore them well.” In later years he taught his nephews the proper technique for tying: It needed to be slightly off-kilter, she said, so no one would mistake it for a clip on.

Mr. Faw was forever proud of his children and grandchildren, showing off their photos and report cards to friends. He celebrated successes and encouraged persistence after setbacks. His credo, whether it came to sweeping the front porch or doing homework, was: “Anything worth doing is worth doing right,” said Ms. Henderson.

A great storyteller, Mr. Faw would have audiences enrapt with long, winding jokes that ended in a pun. “So the punch line would be, ‘People who live in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones,’” said Ms. Henderson. “At the end he would just have everybody in hysterics.”

An avid reader of The Baltimore Sun and The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Faw cut articles from both newspapers and regularly sent them to his children after they left home. Two or three times a week, Ms. Henderson said she received stories in the mail — maybe about a wine she liked, or about a company that she used to work for — along with a note written in his hard-to-read scrawl.

“My brother’s kids would call them ‘the daily dose of Poppy,’” said Ms. Henderson.

Mr. Faw and his wife enjoyed traveling, particularly to Stone Harbor, N.J. The family spent summers there, and Mr. Faw joined them on weekends. He taught his children to body surf, then napped away his exhaustion from his long hours at work.

His grandsons and nephews wore bowties to the June 9 funeral, said Ms. Henderson. The service was held at the Catholic Community of Saint Francis Xavier in Hunt Valley.

In addition to his wife of nearly 64 years and daughter, Mr. Faw is survived by another daughter, Lisa Merrill Faw of York, Pa.; two sons, John Edward Faw Jr. of Sparks, and Todd Christian Faw of Sellersville, Pa.; a sister, Dr. Bernadine C. Faw of Frederick; seven grandchildren; one great grandson; and many nieces and nephews.

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