George Donald Riley Jr., Navy veteran and author, dies

George Donald Riley Jr. died Dec. 18 at the Fairhaven retirement community in Sykesville.

George Donald Riley Jr., a Navy veteran and author of local history books, died of lung disease Dec. 18 at the Fairhaven retirement community in Sykesville. He was 92.

Born in Philadelphia and raised in Baltimore, Mr. Riley was the son of George Donald Riley, a Baltimore Sun writer and radio sportscaster, and Virginia Maddox Riley, a homemaker.


Mr. Riley, whom friends called "Don," graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 1942. He then attended the Severn School in Severna Park, which at the time had a preparatory program for the U.S. Naval Academy.

He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1946 and was commissioned as an ensign. He earned a master's degree in economics from American University in 1961.


Mr. Riley had a distinguished military career before retiring with the rank of captain in 1972, said a son, Samuel M. Riley of Westminster.

"He was a Navy man and enjoyed it very much, and rose up through the ranks," his son said. "It was a natural career for him."

Mr. Riley served aboard the destroyer tender USS Frontier in the Pacific, the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Atlantic, the fleet oiler USS Caliente off the coast of Korea during the Korean War and with the Pacific Fleet's submarine force in Hawaii.

He also taught economics and government at the Naval Academy, served as commanding officer of the Navy's Petroleum Inspection Offices in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and was the head of petroleum logistics in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

He earned the Joint Services Commendation Medal while serving in the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

When Mr. Riley was teaching at the Naval Academy in the early 1950s, a friend from Baltimore set him up on a blind date on a sailing excursion with Helen Brodgen Shriver. The two were married in 1955.

The couple traveled the world through Mr. Riley's Navy service, and had three daughters and two sons.

After leaving the military, Mr. Riley worked as director of research for the Association of Oil Pipelines in Washington for 17 years, and the family settled in Westminster at Farm Content, a property that had previously been owned by Mrs. Riley's family.


Farm Content had been built in 1795 by Mrs. Riley's ancestor, David Shriver. The couple bought the property to bring it back into the family and lived there more than 40 years before moving to Fairhaven in 2011.

David Shriver was a Revolutionary War-era state legislator, and Mr. Riley was intrigued by his story and the property's history. He wrote a book, "David Shriver (1735-1826)," and had Farm Content, as well as a neighboring property, Avondale, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition to the Shriver book, Mr. Riley was author of "Tidewater Maryland Ancestors," "Journey to Bahrain," "The Ghost of Legh Furnace" and "Two Guys from Baltimore."

He had a passion for historical research and genealogy, and traced his lineage to Leonard Calvert, the first Colonial governor of Maryland.

"My father was always analytical and very much a scholar. He loved research and writing," his son said. He said Mr. Riley would travel to libraries in Annapolis and out of state for his research.

"I'm amazed my father did all this work in pre-Internet days," he said.


For "Tidewater Maryland Ancestors," Mr. Riley documented his ancestry back to Colonial times in Southern Maryland. "It's just a fascinating genealogical record he was able to assemble," his son said.

Frank P.L. Somerville, a retired Baltimore Sun reporter and editor, was a longtime friend of Mr. Riley's and wrote the foreword to "Two Guys from Baltimore."

The book was a "charming memoir" of Mr. Riley's time growing up in Baltimore, Mr. Somerville said.

Mr. Riley had a great touch as a writer, he said. While some genealogical and historical books can be dull, Mr. Riley's books were a pleasure to read, Mr. Somerville said.

"He had a very good writing style, in addition to being a meticulous researcher," Mr. Somerville said.

Mr. Riley volunteered in the research library of the Historical Society of Carroll County.


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He also served on the boards of directors for the Maryland Historical Society, Union Mills Homestead Foundation, Historic Shriver Graveyard, Sons of the Revolution and the Westminster Riding Club.

At Fairhaven, Mr. Riley wrote for the literary magazine, Inkling, and the community's website. He also served on the Chapel Council.

He enjoyed tennis and model railroads.

Mr. Riley was a member of the Church of the Ascension, 23 N. Court St., Westminster, where a funeral service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Interment will follow at Pipe Creek Cemetery in Union Bridge.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Riley is survived by another son, Benjamin S. Riley of Summerfield, N.C., and daughters Helen R. Hecht of Westminster, Virginia R. Fahrney of Royal Palm Beach, Fla., and Rebecca R. Silver of New London, N.H.; 13 grandchildren; and one great-grandson.