Herbert E. Wilgis Jr., former diplomat and testing firm president, dies

Herbert E. Wilgis Jr., a retired diplomat, died Feb. 2. The former Towson resident was 82.

Herbert E. Wilgis Jr., a retired career diplomat who later became president of a Baltimore engineering and environmental testing firm, died Friday in his sleep at his Wilmington, N.C., home. The former Towson resident was 82.

The son of Dr. Herbert E. Wilgis Sr., a physician, and Margaret Wilgis, a registered nurse, Herbert Elijah Wilgis Jr. was born in Baltimore and raised on the campus of McDonogh School, where his father served as the school’s doctor.


After graduating from McDonogh in 1953, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1957 from Princeton University.

He entered the U.S. Foreign Service in 1958, and during his nearly three-decade career held postings in Washington, Barcelona, Honduras, Budapest, Bonn and Warsaw.


During his tenure as deputy chief of mission in Budapest, he ensured the United States’ return of the Holy Crown of St. Stephen to Hungary, thus ending years of tension during the Cold War.

While serving as charge d’affaires in Poland, he led the American Embassy in 1981 during the Polish government’s imposition of martial law. He supported Lech Walesa and the Solidarity resistance movement, and welcomed Pope John Paul II when he made his historic return to Poland in 1983.

Mr. Wilgis retired in 1986 and returned to Baltimore. He became president of Penniman & Browne, a Bare Hills engineering and environmental testing firm. He retired in 2001.

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He had been president of the Independent Laboratory Institute. He was also president of the McDonogh School board and was a board member of the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Print & Drawing Society.

Mr. Wilgis moved to Wilmington in 2015. He enjoyed vacationing at a second home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and presiding over family crab feasts.

He was an avid reader of history and, with his wife of 59 years, the former Jane VandeGrift, he collected modern art and prints.

Mr. Wilgis was a communicant of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. C Charles St., where a funeral Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three sons, Herbert E. Wilgis III of Seattle, Jeffrey Breen Wilgis of Sandwich, Mass., and Edward Shaw Wilgis of Wilmington, N.C.; a brother, Dr. Edward Ford Wilgis of Baltimore; a sister, Margaret Jeffery Wilgis of Houston; and four grandchildren.


--Frederick N. Rasmussen