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Frank J. Schmidt

Frank J. Schmidt, a retired Fairchild Aviation executive who was a longtime volunteer aboard the Liberty ship SS John W. Brown, died of heart failure March 31. He was 87.
Frank J. Schmidt, a retired Fairchild Aviation executive who was a longtime volunteer aboard the Liberty ship SS John W. Brown, died of heart failure March 31. He was 87. (Baltimore Sun)

Frank J. Schmidt, a retired Fairchild Aviation executive who was a longtime volunteer aboard the Liberty ship SS John W. Brown, died of heart failure March 31 at Tranquillity at Fredericktowne, a Frederick assisted-living facility. He was 87.

"Frank was a sweetheart and was everyone's friend," said Diane Jerbi, who is president of Project Liberty Ship.

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"He took the kids under his wing and taught them all that he could. He worked right alongside with other volunteers chipping paint and painting. He was a leader, but at the same time was one of them," said Ms. Jerbi.

"Frank was a skilled seaman and a fine man. As second mate and deck department straw boss of a bunch of volunteer mariners, he made sure the ship was in order, the work was done and the guys had fun," said Ernest F. Imhoff, a former Baltimore Sun editor, who wrote "Good Shipmates: The Restoration of the Liberty Ship John W. Brown."

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"He could be slightly bad cop and very good cop in one person. It was a wonderful balance," he said.

The son of Frank August Schmidt, a truck mechanic, and Jean Schmidt, Frank John Schmidt was born at home in Brooklyn, N.Y.

He was raised in Brooklyn where he graduated from Boys High School.

Throughout his life, Mr. Schmidt was guided by a piece of advice that his father had given him.

"He said to me, 'Strive to be the best. Be the best you can,'" he is quoted as saying in Mr. Imhoff's book. "He inspired me. It became my philosophy. I always studied hard, did well in school."

It was Mr. Schmidt's lifelong dream to attend the Naval Academy and become a naval officer.

"I was disappointed early. You needed Congressional approval for the Naval Academy," Mr. Schmidt told Mr. Imhoff in an interview for his book.

"I applied to my congressman, who was a doctor. He examined me and turned me down, he said, because of my broken nose. There was nothing wrong with my nose. It was broken when I was a kid," Mr. Schmidt said. "That's all. But he needed an excuse. Probably wanted someone else. I couldn't get over it for days. I wanted to prove the doctor wrong."

During World War II, Mr. Schmidt served in the U.S. Merchant Marine and served as a cadet aboard three Liberty ships, the John W. Garrett, Robert Eden and Winfred L. Smith.

In 1945, Mr. Schmidt entered the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y., from which he graduated second in his class in 1948.

"I still wanted to serve in the Navy. I passed the physical easily and joined the Navy in 1948 and served until 1952," he told Mr. Imhoff.

He began his career aboard the USS Wright, an aircraft carrier, where he served for 46 months. He later transferred to the USS Allegany, an ocean survey tug. At the time of his discharge in 1952, he had attained the rank of lieutenant commander.

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"I served in the Navy almost four years, and 23 years in the Naval Reserve. So much for my nose," he said in the book.

After leaving the Navy, Mr. Schmidt worked for Todd Shipyard as an engineer at the company's yards in Hoboken, N.J., and Brooklyn, N.Y.

Upon being laid off, he had several odd jobs working for a lumberyard and plumbing supply company before joining Republic Aviation Corp. in 1955, which was purchased by Fairchild Aviation Inc. the next year.

Mr. Schmidt worked there for 35 years and at the time of his 1990 retirement, he was working in the company's Washington office as vice president of human relations.

He began volunteering on the Brown in 1991, where he joined his brother-in-law, Capt. George L. Maier, who had been an officer with United States Lines, and later became the ship's second master.

Mr. Schmidt was the Brown's second mate and, when sailing, its navigator.

"When not, he supervises deck jobs, set the clocks and is a stickler for safety," wrote Mr. Imhoff. "He is a deck department advocate concerned for the health and welfare of people."

Coming aboard the Brown on Wednesday and Saturday work days, Mr. Schmidt was known by his cheerful opening greeting: "Who's here today?"

"His occasionally grouchy demeanor is leavened with a dry wit appreciated by his charges who move cargo in and out of holds the way it was done with booms on pre-container ships," wrote Mr. Imhoff.

Mr. Schmidt later served as president of Project Liberty Ship Inc., which owns and operates the Brown.

A Damascus resident until moving to the assisted-living facility last year, Mr. Schmidt built the Freedom, a 30-foot-Luger sailboat, that he enjoyed sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, family members said..

His wife of 64 years, the former Kathleen Maier, died in 2014.

He was a communicant of St. Paul Roman Catholic Church, 9240 Damascus Road, Damascus, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

He is survived by six sons, Frank J. Schmidt Jr. of Manchester, Tenn., Michael J. Schmidt and Matthew A. Schmidt, both of Damascus, William T. Schmidt of Hagerstown, Joseph A. Schmidt of Roswell, Ga., and Philip G. Schmidt of Holly Springs, N.C.; two daughters, Suzanne M. Stevens of Libertytown and Kathryn J. L'Amoreaux of Woodtstock, Ga.; 24 grandchildren; and 27 great-grandchildren.

—fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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