Charles E. Geyer, a World War II veteran who became superintendent of buildings for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and its successor company, died Jan. 5 from COVID-19 at Stella Maris Hospice. The longtime Nottingham resident was 96.
“Charlie was always very helpful, and people were always asking him about changing their offices and handling other problems,” said E. Ray Lichty, a retired CSX executive and longtime friend. “He was evenhanded and never nervous. Some people thought they got extra good treatment from him, when he gave everyone extra good treatment.”
Charles Edward Geyer, son of Henry A. Geyer, a salesperson, and his wife, Margaret Smith Geyer, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on Potomac Street.
Mr. Geyer had just completed his junior year at Patterson Park High School when he was drafted into the Army in 1943. While he was at Patterson, he got to know a girl, June Rosalie “Blondie” Hoskins, who was four years younger, who as part of the school’s letter-writing program to those serving in the armed forces, wrote to him regularly during the war years, addressing him as PVT Charles, family members said.
After completing training, Mr. Geyer was assigned to Battery D, 126th Anti-aircraft Battalion, and sent to the European theater. After arriving in Liverpool in July 1944, he spent the next two months with a coastal defense unit until crossing the English Channel for France in September.
His unit proceeded to Belgium, where they participated in Operation Antwerp X, defending the Belgian city from German V1 and V2 rocket attacks. When the Ardennes campaign erupted in December 1944, Mr. Geyer and his unit were transferred to Liege, where they supported the 1st Army.
At the conclusion of the Ardennes campaign, his unit moved through the Netherlands, Belgium, France and finally to Erbach, Germany, where they were part of the occupation forces.
After being mustered out in 1946, he returned to Patterson Park High School and was placed in Miss Hoskins’ graduating class. “Love blossomed and they were married on Sept. 14, 1947, and celebrated 73 years of happiness together in 2020,” said his son, Charles E. “Chuck” Geyer Jr., an Annapolis graduate and retired naval aviator who lives in Fairfax Station, Virginia.
In the late 1940s, he went to work for the old Eastern Iron & Steel Co., where he rose to vice president, and then left to join the B & O, working as a draftsman. Rising through the ranks, Mr. Geyer eventually became superintendent of buildings for the railroad’s properties in the city.
“He was in charge of the headquarters building at Baltimore and Charles streets, the B & O Annex building, but not Camden Station — that was under the jurisdiction of the division,” Mr. Lichty said. “Plus, he was in charge of our rental space, which sprawled all over downtown.”
“If ever a job suited a man, it was being superintendent of buildings for the B & O, which later became the Chessie System,” his son said.
“He knew virtually everything there was to know about repair, maintenance, mechanics and construction, and what he didn’t know, he learned,” his son said. “If he couldn’t find just the right person for the job, he would do it himself, even though he was an executive. He could do anything. He loved his job, and honestly, cherished each day at the railroad.”
The jewel in Mr. Geyer’s portfolio of B & O real estate was no doubt its 13-story Beaux Arts-style operating headquarters building on the northwest corner of Baltimore and Charles streets, with its “marble staircases, cobalt-blue stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings that were illuminated by small white lights bursting from plaster rosettes,” observed The Baltimore Sun in a 2006 column.
The building, which opened in 1906 and was designed by architects Parker & Thomas, replaced the B & O’s original headquarters building on the northwest corner of North Calvert and East Baltimore streets, a casualty of the Great Fire of 1904.
“He oversaw all the maintenance and upkeep on the headquarters building, of which he knew every nook and cranny,” his son said.
Mr. Geyer’s responsibilities were not always mechanical or cosmetic. When Walter Tuohy was chairman of the B & O board in the 1960s, he enjoyed using his office fireplace.
“The executive offices, on the third and fifth floors, had working fireplaces, which included the board room,” Mr. Lichty recalled. “When the board was meeting in the winter months, Mr. Tuohy insisted that the fireplace be burning, so Charlie had to get firewood and get the fireplace to draw a draft up more than 10 floors.”
When the railroad’s operating vice president was on vacation, Mr. Geyer seized the moment to have some major cosmetic work done on his office, which featured a “magnificent grandfather clock,” Mr. Lichty said.
“A painter, reaching too far on his ladder, lost his balance and was falling to the floor. Instinctively, he grabbed for something and got a hold of the clock. Instead of stopping his fall, he took the clock with him to the floor,” he said.
It’s pendulum, composed of a silver rack of five glass tubes that held mercury, was shattered.
“The B & O had a full-time staff to maintain station and office clocks. The manager of that office went to work restoring the clock to service. He had wonderful success except for the pendulum,” Mr. Lichty said. “Perplexed as to what to do, someone observed that the broken vials were about the size of a large olive jar. they purchased five olive jars, drained the contents, and the VIP returned, unaware that olive jars were now swinging in his stately timepiece.”
One nuisance that Mr. Geyer had to contend with was the pigeons that tried nesting or resting on deep window sills. “Pigeons were not Charlie’s friend,” Mr. Lichty said. “Many designs were tried to keep them away.”
Each year, Mr. Geyer oversaw the installation of a large model railroad in the building’s lobby, which became a Baltimore Christmas tradition, and hanging greens and garlands from the marble stairs, from which the B & O Glee Club serenaded passersby.
It was Mr. Geyer who directed the moving of Chessie Systems offices from their old headquarters into One Charles Center. “He was on constant watch to stop keepsake-minded employees from snatching the brass doorknobs that were heavily engraved with the B & O logo, and other mementos,” Mr. Lichty said.
Mr. Geyer retired in 1984 from the Chessie System.
“He then became the ‘Superintendent of Elinor Avenue,’” where he had lived since 1951, his son said, taking care of neighbors’ maintenance or renovation projects. “He never asked for compensation or even acknowledgment when doing things for others.”
Mr. Geyer enjoyed taking Sunday drives, duck pin bowling, raising the American flag every day at his home, and tending bar at the American Legion Post in Rosedale, where he was an active member.
Mr. Geyer’s health was failing, which required two health aides, who were later diagnosed with COVID-19, around the clock, his son said.
On Dec. 31, he was clearly visibly failing, but on Jan. 3, his son took him for what would turn out to be his last visit to his boyhood home on Potomac Street, where the father regaled his son with stories of playing as a kid in the nearby clay pits and of an old pickle factory that stood on Belnord Avenue.
On Jan. 4, Mr. Geyer entered Stella Maris Hospice as an inpatient and tested positive for the coronavirus, and was in the Timonium hospice for less than 24 hours when he died Jan. 5.
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“Only 36 hours before we were on Potomac Street. My time with him that day was so precious. It was the last day I was with him,” said his son, who was not with his father when he died. “I got there about 45 minutes later, and I was able to sit with him and hold his hand, which was still warm. It was beautiful.”
Mr. Geyer was a member of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Overlea.
A private burial for family only will be held Jan. 30 at Gardens of Faith Cemetery in Overlea. Plans for a celebration-of-life gathering in the summer with “crabs and his favorite beer, Stella Artois,” his son said, are incomplete.