James Dowling 'Jay' Cherry Jr.

James Dowling "Jay" Cherry Jr., a former associate professor and chairman of the department of speech at the old Mount St. Agnes College who also gave one-man performances of historic Unitarians, died Aug. 24 of congestive heart failure at Timothy House in Towson.

He was 89.


The son of a traveling salesman and a homemaker, Mr. Cherry was born in Cleveland and raised in Bay Village, Ohio, where he graduated in 1940 from Parkview High School.

He earned a bachelor's degree in speech and drama in 1944 from Ohio Wesleyan University and a master's degree in speech pathology in 1945 from what is now Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.


Mr. Cherry began his teaching career in 1945 as an instructor in speech and drama at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., and also worked as a speech therapist for physically challenged children in three Western Pennsylvania counties.

He left the next year to teach speech and drama at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, and then returned in 1949 to Allegheny College, where he was assistant professor of speech and drama.

In 1956, Mr. Cherry moved to Baltimore after being named executive director of the Baltimore Hearing Society, now the Hearing and Speech Agency.

While with the agency, he was a co-founder in 1960 of the old Gateway School for hearing- and speech-impaired students that was in the 800 block of Park Avenue.

In 1962, Mr. Cherry joined the faculty of the old Mount St. Agnes College in Mount Washington, where he was associate professor and chairman of the department of speech and hearing therapy until 1970.

During his tenure at the college, he initiated the speech and hearing therapy undergraduate and graduate program at the time Mount St. Agnes was entering into cooperative programs with what is now Loyola University Maryland. He designed a curriculum that met the requirements for certification in both speech and pathology of the American Speech and Hearing Association.

After leaving Mount St. Agnes in 1970, he worked during the rest of the decade as a speech pathologist for Baltimore County public schools and was on the faculty of what was then Coppin State College.

Mr. Cherry eventually left academia; for the last 30 years he had worked as a bookkeeper for a Fells Point property owner, resumed his acting career, and worked with various charitable organizations.


He had not retired at his death.

He was a charter member in 1960 of Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, where he was president of the board for three terms. He was also the church's first religious administrator.

In 1963, he had joined with other members of the church's congregation and participated in the then historic March on Washington that featured the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.s "I Have a Dream" speech.

The Rev. Clare Petersburg, who has been pastor of Towson Unitarian for the last 13 years, described Mr. Cherry as a man of "vision, energy who had served on various church committees, no matter how big or small. He was a man of social action."

"He even had been our custodian at one time," said Ms. Petersburg, with a laugh.

"Jay worked in our memorial garden where he'll be buried. He was a champion of pastoral care and visiting those who no longer could make it to church and was an advocate for end of life planning," she said.


"He was truly a visionary and a very caring person. He was a remarkable person in all of his roles and will be truly missed," she said.

The Rev. David Hicks McPherson, who had been pastor of Towson Unitarian for 13 years, remained a close friend.

"Jay had a great devotion to our faith and especially to the good folks at TUUC," wrote Mr. McPherson in a letter to Mr. Cherry's family. "Whenever there was a space needing to be filled in the life of the congregation, he was always ready to step in and with much, much goodwill."

Mr. Cherry was the founder and executive director of the Memorial Society of Greater Baltimore, now the Memorial Society of Maryland and Environs. He was a charter member and vice president of the Continental Association Funeral and Memorial Society of America.

Mr. Cherry had been a longtime consumer representative to the Maryland State Cemetery Oversight Committee. He had been a board member of Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. and had been president of the Fair Housing Council of Baltimore County and a former president of the Maryland Food Committee.

He was a charter member of the National Aquarium's volunteer organization and had served from 1981 to 1996, as a member of the organization's board. In 1992, he was presented a Trigger Fish Award for his volunteerism at the aquarium.


Mr. Cherry was known for his mien and rather unconventional dressing habits.

"He was iconoclastic, an art collector with a curator's eye and whose aesthetic sense extended to his wardrobe," said his son, Warren Cherry, of Charles Village.

"He had a full distinctive lionesque mane of white hair almost to his shoulders, his barber called him 'Maestro,' and would wear lime green and purple pants, pink suit jackets, turquoise shirts and preferred bolo ties to silk," he said.

In the mid 1970s, Mr. Cherry began performing one-man shows featuring historic portrayals of William Ellery Channing, a 19th century New England Unitarian theologian, Walt Whitman, American poet and Unitarian, and Joseph Priestly, the 18th century English scientist and Unitarian theologian.

"He would take these autologues to Unitarian congregations east of the Mississippi," his son said.

Eric Beatty, who is director of the Homewood Arts Program at the Johns Hopkins University, was a longtime friend and fellow church member.


Earlier this spring, he and Mr. Cherry participated in a performance of selections written by members of Towson Unitarian's Wednesday Writer's Group.

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"He was wonderful to work with and had a great dramatic sense and a sense of timing and character," said Mr. Beatty. "Jay was a strong individual and even though he was straight-forward and direct, always had a twinkle in his eye."

Jay Herzog, who is a professor of technical theater design at Towson University, also had performed with Mr. Cherry, when the two appeared at the Maryland Historical Society about 10 years ago recreating the personas of Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, respectively.

"They were showing Model A Fords and we were to dress up. Jay was Henry Ford and I was Harvey Firestone. The amount of research he put into his character was incredible and at the same time he was so articulate. I was astounded at how he took on the role of Henry Ford," said Mr. Herzog.

"He knew everything there was to know about Ford. It really was astounding," he said. "Jay was so well-spoken and such an intelligent man. He was a unique human being and his own person."

Mr. Cherry who had lived for years in the 2300 block of E. Fayette St. before moving to Timothy House in 1995, was a fan of orchids, opera and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, of which he had been a patron for many years.


Services for Mr. Cherry will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 8 at his church, 1710 Dulaney Valley Road, Lutherville.

Also surviving are four daughters, Karren Cherry of Middle River, Sharren Cherry-Herring of Parkton, Carrelyn Cherry of Perry Hall and Sharrell Cherry-Shoemaker of Woodsboro; and two grandsons. His marriage to the former Sybil J. Craddock ended in divorce.