The Rev. John R. "Jack" Sharp, former pastor of Govans Presbyterian Church who was a strong voice for sustainable housing and social justice, died of a cerebral hemorrhage Monday at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center.
The longtime Idlewylde resident was 76.
"He was a very kind and warm man, and he was always doing amazing things pastorally and in the community," said the Rev. Tom Harris, who succeeded Dr. Sharp at Govans Presbyterian in 2006. "He made you feel loved and affirmed."
"I first met Jack eight years ago when I began volunteering with the Govans Ecumenical Development Corp., and he reminded me of my father. He was a gentle man," said Perry P. Savoy of Owings Mills, who is the current president of the organization.
"He taught me to make my life a ministry and be a part of solutions. He had a compassion for serving God's children and he was a good servant," said Mr. Savoy. "He was an amazing man, and it's so surprising that he's gone."
John Richard Sharp was born in Wilmington, Del., where he was primarily raised by his paternal grandmother, Emily Sharp.
He was a 1956 graduate of Wilmington High School, and he earned a bachelor's degree from Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., in 1962.
In 1966, Dr. Sharp earned a master's degree in theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York City and was ordained a Presbyterian minister that year in the New Castle Presbytery in Delaware. In 1981, he received a doctorate of ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.
He began his pastoral career in Albany, N.Y., and was pastor of Kilburn Memorial Presbyterian Church in Newark, N.J., for 11 years. He also helped establish an ecumenical council there.
In 1977, Dr. Sharp was named pastor of historic Govans Presbyterian Church on York Road, which was founded in 1844 as the Union Chapel. In 1846, it became a full church and a member of the Presbytery of Baltimore.
Dr. Sharp was an activist pastor who was interested in social issues and establishing sustainable housing for the elderly, and one of his early projects came in the early 1980s with the founding of Govans Ecumenical Homes, a forerunner of what would become Govans Ecumenical Development Corp.
"He gathered the pastors together on York Road to form GEDCO, and it's now part of our identity of who we are," said Mr. Harris.
In 1985, Govans Presbyterian joined with Govans Boundary Parish United Methodist Church, Holy Comforter Lutheran Church, St. Mary's of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church and Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, purchasing the 1850s-era Govanstown Hotel on York Road for $200,000 and converting the building into 33 apartments for the elderly.
Renamed Epiphany House, the $1.3 million project provided "a continuum of care," Dr. Sharp told The Baltimore Sun in an interview.
"He had an amazing and relentless optimism when he saw need and persistent problems, especially housing for the elderly," said Jane H. Page, a longtime church member and an Anneslie resident.
"Jack had the ability to rally people around a common cause. That was one of his strengths, and he never gave up," said Ms. Page. "When options for the elderly became low for affordable housing, he thought there should be another way. He believed in human dignity and that everyone had the right to live in a dignified way."
In 1996, GEDCO celebrated the restoration of the Gallagher Mansion, an overgrown and dilapidated 19th-century Italianate mansion on Notre Dame Lane in the Radnor-Winston neighborhood. It was restored to its 1879 appearance and offered 40 apartments for low-income elderly tenants.
One of Dr. Sharp's most ambitious GEDCO projects, the redevelopment of the old Memorial Stadium site on East 33rd Street, pitted him against William Donald Schaefer, the former mayor and governor, who as state comptroller opposed the demolition of the stadium for anything that would not produce significant tax revenues.
"It was very much a David-and-Goliath situation," said Lin Romano, GEDCO's chief operating officer and a resident of the Architect's Row community near Govans. "We were a small developer, and it was a bold move of faith. This man changed Baltimore. He changed people's hearts."
The church communities and neighborhood associations of Northeast Baltimore joined GEDCO in the project, which is being done in phases and will be completed by 2023.
Development of the project began after the demolition of the stadium in 2002, and what rose on the site was Stadium Place, a $50 million mixed-income and affordable life care community that also included a YMCA branch. The first building opened for residents in 2004.
It was to be a "national model for urban living," Dr. Sharp told The Sun.
"He really was an innovator, and Stadium Place was his crown jewel," said Ms. Romano. "He always had a vision of taking care of people from wherever they came until their death. The elderly living in comfort is what he wanted, and they could be from all incomes or mixed-incomes."
She described Dr. Sharp as the "most generous person I've ever met. He was charismatic but in a humble way. He was transparent and loving, and you could never say no to him, and that is why GEDCO is what it is."
Ms. Page said that Dr. Sharp's sermons were quite focused.
"He had a humanistic approach to the Bible that always related to your life. You felt connected to what he was talking about," she said.
After retiring from Govans Presbyterian Church, he served as a part-time pastor at Springfield Presbyterian Church in Sykesville.
Dr. Sharp enjoyed genealogy and collecting buttons.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at his church, 5828 York Road.
He is survived by his wife of 51 years, the former Dorothy "Dotty" Futty; two sons, John R. Sharp and Bryan A. Sharp, both of Baltimore; a daughter, Joanne P. "Jody" Sharp of Perry Hall; and two brothers, Stephen G. Sharp of Wilmington, Del., and Robert R. Sharp of Richmond, Ky.