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Howard Klein, attorney who led development of his family’s supermarkets and was McDonogh board president, dies

Howard Klein helped his parents and brothers transform what had been a small general store into a supermarket chain.
Howard Klein helped his parents and brothers transform what had been a small general store into a supermarket chain.

Howard Klein, an executive of his family’s supermarket chain and a past president of the McDonogh School board of trustees, died of a glioblastoma Saturday at his home in the Phoenix section of Baltimore County. He was 63.

“He thought the good life entailed serving others,” said David J. Farace, McDonogh’s head of school. “He had a great sense of humor and liked to laugh but always had a seriousness of purpose. It was a nice blend.”

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Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Ralph Klein and his wife, Shirley, the matriarch of the family that established Klein’s ShopRite supermarkets. He was the youngest of three brothers.

Mr. Klein grew up in Forest Hill, where his parents ran a local general store at the end of their street.

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“Howard and his brothers spent their free time stocking shelves and running the business — whether they liked it or not,” said a family biography.

“Howard was a mischievous child whose passion for life sometimes got him into trouble,” said his wife, Susan Kelly Klein.

His parents decided that he was best suited for a military-style education. In the eighth grade, he enrolled at the McDonogh School, but it soon abandoned its military roots and converted to a coed school. Mr. Klein flourished there.

He became captain of the school’s cheerleading team. He also played lacrosse, ran track and was active in theatrical productions.

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“Howard was our Joe Hardy in ‘Damn Yankees,’” said John Van Meter, a retired McDonogh English teacher and dramatics adviser. ‘He was good at everything and knew everything. What he touched turned to gold. And he was generous of act and spirit.”

After McDonogh, Howard went to Brown University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in politics and government in 1980.

While at Brown, he joined the crew team and Kappa Delta Upsilon fraternity.

“He formed lifelong bonds with teammates and fraternity brothers, winning over audiences with 2 a.m. hallway concerts and endless fits of humor,” said the family biography.

Mr. Klein returned to Baltimore to earn a degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1983. He graduated cum laude and served as a staff editor on the law review.

He then worked at the Frank, Bernstein, Conaway & Goldman law firm in downtown Baltimore.

“His greatest legal achievement was working up the courage to ask out a beautiful title clerk, Susan Kelly,” said the family biography. “Susan wasn’t expecting much from their first date, but she quickly realized that she loved the awkward young attorney’s terrible jokes and fine taste in good wine.”

The biography also said, “Howard grew endlessly devoted to Susan — together, the life of every party and the first couple on every dance floor.”

Mr. Klein subsequently returned to Forest Hill to join his family’s growing supermarket business.

Mr. Klein worked alongside his parents and brothers to transform what had been a small general store into a chain of nine full-service supermarkets and an associated real estate development company.

“He worked tirelessly to develop a professional atmosphere, abiding always by his strong moral compass,” said the family biography. “Howard’s greatest gift was his ability to share his loves and passions with others.”

His daughter Victoria “Tory” Hoffberger said her father was an enthusiastic dancer.

“At a wedding, he worked up a sweat. He loved it,” she said.

He also attended numerous James Taylor concerts.

“His beautiful voice harmonized perfectly with every James Taylor song he sang,” Ms. Hoffberger said. “Their voices were similar.”

She also said he enjoyed staying active and ran.

“He went on so many runs that he ultimately required two different hip replacements,” she said.

He was also a skier and liked the slopes in Park City, Utah.

Mr. Klein also played golf at the Hillendale Country Club, where a beverage, the “Howie-Hattan,” was created in his name. It was a combination of a Manhattan and an Old-Fashioned.

Friends and family said Mr. Klein never forgot his days at McDonogh. He returned to the school as a member of its board of trustees from 2004 to 2019. He was board president from 2017 to 2019.

After his death, McDonogh School issued a statement saying: “He will be remembered as someone who was devoted to his alma mater and selflessly gave of his time and resources to furthering the mission of the school.

“[He] committed himself to furthering McDonogh’s financial sustainability. He played crucial roles in the School’s capital campaigns and fundraising efforts.”

He was given the Alumni Distinguished Service Award in 2009 and was inducted into the Circle of Philanthropy this February

The Klein Lyceum in the Edward St. John Student Center bears his family name as does the Klein Collaborative meeting room in the Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Middle School.

Additionally, in the spring of 2021, the Class of 1976 established an endowed scholarship in his name.

“Howard wore many hats throughout his family years, from lacrosse coach to Bar Mitzvah instructor to editor-in-chief of his children’s homework assignments,” said the family biography.

In addition to his wife of nearly 36 years and his daughter, Mr. Klein is survived by two sons, Stephen Klein of Baltimore and David Klein of Monkton; a brother, Michael Klein of Owings Mills; and two grandsons.

The family will hold a private interment as well as a public memorial at noon Sept. 19 at McDonogh’s Horn Theatre. Masks will be required.

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