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Harvey R. Clapp III, lawyer, businessman and raconteur, dies

Harvey R. Clapp III, lawyer, businessman and raconteur, dies
In recent years Harvey R. Clapp III was an angel investor with Rowland Ventures, focusing on the areas of energy, health and technology. (Handout)

Harvey R. Clapp III, a colorful figure who combined careers in law, restaurants, natural gas and investing — and still found time to pursue his passion as a raconteur — died March 27 from prostate cancer at his home in the Woodbrook neighborhood of Baltimore County. He was 79.

"Harvey enjoyed all of his businesses, and did it all while finding time to love life," said James D. Wright, a former Venable LLP partner and colleague who headed its real estate practice group until retiring in 2016.

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"He lived life to the fullest by the enormous variety of friends he had, and was one of the smartest, most entertaining persons I have ever known," said Mr. Wright, a longtime Bolton Hill resident. "He literally had hundreds of friends and enjoyed them all."

"He was just like F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'Great Gatsby,' " said Stanley "Stan" Mazaroff, also a former Venable partner and a longtime friend. "He was the Jay Gatsby of our time — Fitzgerald could have written a book about Harvey."

"He was extremely fun being around, and we drank a lot of beer together," added Mr. Mazaroff.

Born in Baltimore, Harvey Rowland Clapp III was the son of Harvey R. Clapp Jr., owner of Harbill, an auto leasing firm, and Katherine Logan Brown Clapp, a homemaker.

He spent his early years on Cloverhill Road in Guilford before moving with his family to Four Seasons, a Ruxton estate on Montrose Avenue.

He was a graduate of the Calvert School, attended the Gilman School and graduated in 1957 from Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Mass.

He attended Princeton University before leaving to serve in the Army for four years as an artillery officer. He attained the rank of lieutenant.

In 1963, he and the former Ann Stewart Kinczel were married.

Mr. Clapp returned to Princeton and obtained a bachelor's degree in 1965 from the university's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He received a law degree, with honors, in 1968 from Harvard University.

"I first met Harvey at Harvard Law School in the late 1960s, and from that time he's been one of my dearest friends," Mr. Wright said.

From 1968 to 1969, he clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Frank A. Kaufman, then in 1969 joined what was then known as Venable, Baetjer and Howard. Mr. Clapp was primarily a securities and corporate attorney. He was made a partner in the firm in 1977.

"At Venable, Harvey was a star," Mr. Wright said.

Mr. Mazaroff, who is now an author and art historian, had known Mr. Clapp for 47 years.

"I first met him at Venable when we were both associates, and we worked together until he left," he said. "Harvey was one of the smartest guys at Venable — where there are many smart guys."

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While at the firm, he founded, owned and operated the Modern Bar Review Course Inc., which prepared law school graduates to sit for the Maryland Bar Exam in Baltimore and Washington.

"He started the bar review while still working full time as an associate and then partner," Mr. Wright said. "Not only did he establish it, he taught it for years and years."

In 1978, Mr. Clapp obtained a master's degree in business from what is now Loyola University Maryland. After leaving Venable in 1985, he managed a family business, Rowland Ventures, which evolved into an early-stage angel investing firm.

"The way I think of Harvey is that he was the personification of life in all its vitality," Mr. Mazaroff said. "He had many wonderful qualities. He was very generous in many ways to so many people."

Mr. Clapp indulged in a variety of other businesses. From 1967 to 2007, he was a board member of Rowland Land Co., a West Virginia owner of coal, gas and timber resources. During the 1980s, he and his wife owned and operated Cafe des Artistes in Mount Washington.

Perhaps Mr. Clapp's "largest and time-consuming investments" was a natural gas field in the Thrace Basin area of Turkey, said his son, David S. Clapp of Ruxton.

Starting with a handful of employees in the mid-1980s, Thrace Basin Natural Gas Corp. grew to more than 300 workers and drilled more than 100 wells. He sold the business in 2011 to Transatlantic Petroleum Corp.

In recent years, he concentrated his business efforts with Rowland Ventures, where he was joined by his son. Semi-retired at his death, Mr. Clapp functioned as an investment angel focusing on the areas of energy, health and technology.

"He was incredibly adventurous and took risks when no one else would, and this made him a more interesting guy," Mr. Mazaroff said.

"He was incredibly smart but never arrogant about his knowledge, and always seem interested in the other perspective," his son said.

His philanthropic interests included Calvert School, where he endowed the Clapp Fellow, a faculty position. Other educational institutions where he focused attention included Gilman School and Princeton, as well as Johns Hopkins Hospital, Roland Park Little League and Sisters Circle, a mentoring organization.

The former resident of Greenway in Guilford enjoyed playing bridge and backgammon. He was a voracious reader who read four or five newspapers a day, as well as books.

Mr. Clapp was also an avid Baltimore Orioles fan.

"He had a fun side to him and was known for large Halloween parties where he would dress up as a woman — something a man who hovered around 300 pounds was not built to do," his son said.

Mr. Clapp also spent time at another home in Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, family members said.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. May 5 at the Calvert School, 105 Tuscany Road, Baltimore.

In addition to his wife of 55 years and his son, Mr. Clapp is survived by two grandchildren.

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