James G. Prather, a retired CSX official, Coast Guard veteran and Eucharistic minister, died of heart failure Sept. 4 at his Homeland residence in Baltimore. He was 89.
“He was a fun guy who always loved big overtures,” said A. Blair Connelly, his son-in-law. “If he went to an Orioles game, he’d rent an entire skybox. If he went to a boat show, he’d go home and start measuring his garage. If he rented a house at the beach, it had to be near the water. When I started dating his daughter in high school, he thought I was too much of a dreamer, but he was really the dreamer.”
James Gowen Prather, son of Maj. Gen. Richard Givens Prather and Elizabeth Gowen Prather, a homemaker, was born at Fort Benning in Georgia.
Because his father was a career Army officer, Mr. Prather attended a number of high schools. He graduated in 1951 from the Bullis School in Silver Spring, where his senior yearbook described him as a “unique man ... always kidding around ... always in some sort of scrape ... and manages to remain high on the list of beautiful grades.”
Mr. Prather received appointments to the Naval Academy and West Point but in 1960 enlisted in the Coast Guard. The next year, he was deployed to the American Shoal Lighthouse off Sugarloaf Key, Florida, and from 1962 to 1964, he served aboard the USCGC Sweetgum, a buoy tender, as storekeeper 3rd class.
After being discharged from the Coast Guard, for which he had earned the Good Conduct Medal, Mr. Prather began his three-decade railroad career in 1965 with the C&O/B&O as a car service agent and later was promoted to chief of demurrage in Baltimore. He retired from what became CSX Transportation in 1995.
“Even though he had been retired for 30 years, he still dressed in business casual with a crisp button-down white shirt, pressed pants and black shoes,” Mr. Connelly said. “And when he went out, he always dressed very formally.”
Family members said that when Mr. Prather went whitewater rafting, his dress of choice was dress slacks rather than a bathing suit.
Family members said his “Catholic faith was the rock of his identity” and that he was a daily communicant at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen and, in recent years, St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church in Govans.
“He was a Eucharistic minister and took Communion to patients at Union Memorial Hospital,” said his wife of 49 years, the former Gail Inman, a registered nurse.
A devoted family man who had a quirky sense of humor and was a gifted storyteller, Mr. Prather would occasionally launch into the recitation of a poem or sing old songs at the dinner table.
“He was a very social person and could hold a conversation with anybody and was always up for telling stories about his ancestors,” Mr. Connelly said.
“Jim was full of surprising tales and wacky lived experiences,” according to a biographical profile submitted by his family.
“He was very eccentric,” Mr. Connelly said with a laugh. “When he was coming over, he’d go to the bank and get crisp, brand-new money that hadn’t been circulated that he gave to my children.”
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Family members said Mr. Prather favored Vicks VapoRub, T-shirts with a chest pocket, crab cakes, Andy Rooney, calendars, clocks, Scripto pencils, watching classic Hollywood Westerns, driving his Jaguar and being a member of the Paint and Powder Club. He disliked hospitals, unknown callers, wrinkled money, stepping in gum or wearing shorts.
Happy hour was a sacred time in Mr. Prather’s home. A generous host, he made sure family and guests had exactly what they wanted to drink, while he enjoyed sipping bourbon and, in recent years, a Bud Light with two ice cubes. He proclaimed this daily ritual helped fortify and relax him so he could absorb the “terrible evening news,” according to the profile.
Mr. Prather and his wife were members of a monthly supper club with friends during the 1970s and early 1980s. Members selected what they wished to cook from a menu that had been designed by the couple hosting that month’s dinner, and given Mr. Prather’s rather limited culinary abilities, he could always be relied upon to provide the ice for cocktails.
Until giving up smoking some years ago, Mr. Prather was seldom without his trademark El Producto cigar. He enjoyed listening to player piano music, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, old hymns and Irish pub songs, and playing the piano while singing “Red River Valley,” a favorite, and vacationing in Cape May Point, New Jersey, with family.
“Unto others he was kind and loyal, polite, compassionate, and altruistic. He cheered for underdogs, gave people chances, tipped generously, and trusted folk to go along in a good manner,” according to his biography. “He hated to bother anyone and always had the best of intentions. He was interested in other people and liked hearing their stories.”
A Memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. on Oct. 1 at St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church at 5502 York Road at Govans.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Prather is survived by his son, Chad Prather of Nashville, Tennessee; a daughter, Stacy Connelly of Lake Walker; two sisters, Beth Adam and Nancy Kahn, both of Houston; and four grandchildren.