Henry B. "Burke" Mathews Jr., woodworker

Henry Burke Mathews

Henry B. "Burke" Mathews Jr., a co-founder of a Hampden custom cabinet business, died Thursday of renal failure at his Ruxton home. He was 88.

The son of Henry Burke Mathews, a vice president of Commercial Credit Corp., and Katherine Grove Mathews, a homemaker, Henry Burke Mathews Jr. was born in New Orleans. He moved with his family in 1928 to a home on Belvedere Avenue, and they later settled on Churchwardens Road in Homeland.


A 1944 graduate of Gilman School, Mr. Mathews, who never used his first name, had started his education at Princeton University when he was drafted into the Army.

"He was always interested in woodworking, and during his Army days, he maintained barracks and built furniture," said his son, William Burke Mathews of Towson. "His passion was working with wood."


Discharged from the Army in 1946 with the rank of private, Mr. Mathews returned to Princeton, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1948.

After working for several years for Commercial Credit Corp., Mr. Mathews and a fellow Gilman classmate and longtime friend, Irwin D. "Irdie" Cromwell, established Roland Park Cabinet and Millwork Corp. in 1955 at 3500 Ash St. in Hampden.

"I first got to know Burke when we were boys and we went to a camp on Squam Lake in Holderness, N.H., that was run by a Gilman headmaster," recalled Mr. Cromwell, a former Clarksville resident who now lives in Santa Fe, N.M.

"When we were both counselors at the camp, I bought a 1928 or 1929 Model A Ford for $25 that was in the middle of a hayfield and didn't have a top. It was a very fine car, and Burke and I and another Gilmanite drove it back to Baltimore," he said.

Mr. Cromwell said that the two decided to start their business because they were unhappy with their jobs.

"I was working for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., and Burke ... was with Commercial Credit, and we both had jobs we didn't like, so we started the business," said Mr. Cromwell.

"We started out repairing and refinishing furniture for old friends in Roland Park, so we could get the feeling of knowing what we were doing. And then we got into millwork and making whatever anyone needed. Then we began making custom furniture, which we both thought was a good way to go," he said.

Florence Maher Cromwell, who is married to Mr. Cromwell, said that Mr. Mathews was "a wonderful partner."

"When it came time to pick a president for Roland Park Cabinet and Millwork, they flipped a coin, and Irdie won. It was that kind of friendship. And they sat in the same office back to back," said Mrs. Cromwell.

Mr. Cromwell said Mr. Mathews "loved working with wood."

"We both loved working with our hands, ... but Burke was a better mechanic than I," said Mr. Cromwell, who added that he thought their two best accounts were Johns Hopkins Hospital and Union Memorial Hospital.

"They built nursing stations for Johns Hopkins Hospital and Union Memorial Hospital, for instance. I work at Hopkins and can see what they made," Mr. Mathews' son said.


"Burke was laid-back and was always able to roll with the punches. He was mild-mannered but could become particularly loquacious, especially when women were around," said Mrs. Cromwell, laughing.

In 1987, the partners sold the business and retired.

Mr. Mathews maintained an extensive woodworking shop in the basement of his Ruxton home.

"He built furniture, coffee tables and jewelry boxes for family and friends," his son said.

After he was no longer able to use power tools because of age, he turned to boat building.

"It was intricate work and of course they were wooden. He built several dozen sailing ships and power boats," his son said.

His wife of 24 years, the former Dolores "Bee" Frank, died in 1987.

Mr. Mathews was a communicant of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, Baltimore and Ware avenues in Towson, where a memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

In addition to his son, Mr. Mathews is survived by a sister, Katherine Walker of Cockeysville; and two grandchildren.

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