James M. Decker, a retired Bel Air business owner who served as a town commissioner and was named mayor, died of complications of diabetes Dec. 21 at Forest Hill Heights Assisted Living. The former Bel Air resident was 90.
Born in Catonsville and raised on Beaumont Avenue, he was the son of Henry Decker, a roofing and fencing contractor, and his wife, Helen McCubbin. He attended St. Mark School and was a 1947 graduate of Catonsville High School.
He joined the Merchant Marine immediately after his high school graduation.
“He liked to tell people he had sailed around the world by the time he was 19,” said his son, Mark Decker of Bel Air.
Mr. Decker then joined the Air Force and trained as a mechanic. He was stationed in Arizona.
In 1956 he married the former Patricia Wright, a student at Mount de Sales Academy of the Visitation who was in class with his sister.
They initially lived in Northeast Baltimore on Winford Road and later settled in the Homestead Village section of Bel Air.
He joined Air Supply and sold products related to the aviation fueling industry. He changed careers and sold home mortgage insurance through Liberty Mortgage.
In 1981 he opened Decker’s Wines & Spirits at the former B.D. Tucker International Harvester store at 401 Baltimore Pike. Mr. Decker worked alongside his wife and son. Each fall Mr. Decker started assembling custom gift baskets for the store’s customers.
“Jim was a jolly guy. He was looking to have a good time but at the same time was business-like. When he undertook a project, he was successful with what he started,” said a cousin, Leo H. Decker of Ocean Pines. “He was a people person and a good listener. It doesn’t surprise me that he wound up being the mayor of Bel Air. His personality made people like him."
Mr. Decker was named to the Bel Air Planning Commission and also served on the Zoning Appeals Board. A Republican, he was later a Bel Air town commissioner. The sitting commissioners voted to give the him the honorary title of mayor, and he served from 2002 to 2003.
“My father believed in giving back and was all about community service,” said his son. “One of his earliest projects was having street signs installed on redwood posts in Homestead Village. He also donned a Santa Claus suit and rode on a Bel Air volunteer fire engine each Christmas.”
“He was well respected and dedicated a lot of his time and talents to this town over the years,” said Jesse Bane, the current Bel Air town administrator.
“He was well known around town as a civic-minded individual,” said Todd Holden, a former chair of the Bel Air Planning Commission.
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“As a town commissioner he played that role perfectly. He was an innovator,” said Christopher G. Schlehr, a former Bel Air town administrator. “He was professional and astute. He had good business sense and he certainly had the good of the people of Bel Air at heart.”
Mr. Schlehr also said, “Jim was instrumental in getting the town to acquire the old state National Guard armory and making that happen. It is now a town activity center with a market in the back and town offices and an auditorium that is used for multiple events. He had good ideas and once the board agreed, he was fine letting the staff then do its work.”
In retirement, Mr. Decker periodically returned to the former armory to distribute tourism materials.
In addition to his son, survivors include a daughter, Sharon Decker Dircks of Bel Air; two sisters, Judith Schuck of Lutherville and Juanita Etzler of Westminster; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His wife of nearly 60 years died in 2017.