John H. Wilson Jr., an Eastern Shore developer whose projects included the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club and the purchase and renovation of Easton’s historic Tidewater Inn, died March 18 of complications from a brain tumor at Compass Regional Hospice in Centreville. The Stevensville resident was 74.
“John was our inspiration, our leader and a true visionary,” his associate Dereck A. Janes of Stevensville wrote in an email. “His compassion, kindness and warm smile will be missed by so many in our Chesapeake Bay Beach Club and Tidewater Inn families. We are in the celebration business, as John would say, and in doing that we help people create fond memories, ones that will last a lifetime."
He added: “In our over 20 years as a company, he laid a foundation of strength and determination, leaving us all with the tools to preserve us in difficult times.”
John Hines Wilson Jr., son of John H. Wilson Sr., a professional photographer, and his wife, Hannah Rowe Wilson, a stay-at-home mother, was born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, and moved with his family to a home in Timonium that was built by his father.
Mr. Wilson attended the old Lida Lee Tall School on the campus of Towson University and graduated in 1964 from St. Paul’s School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1968.
While in college, he met and fell in love with the former Deidre Ann Knox, whom he married in 1969.
An entrepreneur, Mr. Wilson with his retired father, sister and brother owned and operated Wilson’s Garden Center in Columbia from 1970 until 1988. Baltimore Magazine named him in 1981 as one of the up-and-coming people to watch that year.
In 1981, Mr. Wilson established Coastal South of Maryland, a development company whose first project was at the Columbia garden center.
“I took a part of the land we had there, and developed a small office park — only 12,000 square feet. That was my first dip into" development, he explained in a 2016 interview with What’s Up? Media.
In the early 1980s, he took on the development of Henderson’s Wharf, a former B&O Railroad tobacco warehouse in Fells Point, and transformed it into a $27 million condo/inn/marina project.
Mr. Wilson and his wife moved to Cohassett, Massachusetts, in 1995, then to Stevensville in 2000. During the 1980s and 1990s he developed marina complexes from New England to South Carolina.
He explained in the What’s Up Media interview what motivated him as a developer.
“I enjoy the puzzle of something,” Mr. Wilson said. “There’s the opportunity, and then you put together a pro forma for it, a development number, think through a business plan, get it financed, permitted, built, and then operate it.”
In 1998, Mr. Wilson began development of the Chesapeake Bay Club in Stevensville on Kent Island, where it became a “key part of the Eastern Shore community hosting weddings, and events, including a ‘Today Show’ wedding in 2005,” Ms. Wilson wrote in a biographical profile of her husband.
Along with several partners, in 2000 he invested in building Gibson’s Grant, a Stevensville residential housing community, and in 2009 purchased and renovated Easton’s Tidewater Inn. As demands for accommodations grew, he developed and opened the Inn at the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club in 2015.
“I run his hotel business at the Tidewater Inn and the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club,” Mr. Janes, the CEO and general manager of both inns, said in a telephone interview.
“JW was more of a friend and mentor to us than a boss. He always let us make things our own,” he said. “He had the vision and perception and then would say, ‘Now, it’s yours.’ We created policy based on what we thought would be the path he’d take.”
“I think John’s in the same league as Jim Rouse,” said U.S. Circuit Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, a longtime friend and golfing partner. “He had the same sense of aesthetics, vision, creativeness, discipline and kindness, and his employees loved him.”
Judge Niemeyer, a Roland Park resident, said Mr. Wilson never shirked from doing what was right.
“I’ve seen him face tough situations and when he could have cut corners, he didn’t. He had strength and looked things straight on,” he said.
Mr. Wilson served on the board of St. Paul’s School and oversaw the rebuilding of the school’s chapel after it was destroyed in a 1990 fire. Other board memberships included Centreville National Bank, now Shore United Bank, Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, Eastern Shore Land Conservancy and the Urban Land Institute.
Frank E. Mason III, an Easton resident, was a colleague of Mr. Wilson’s on the Shore Bancshares board.
“We discussed our love of the Maryland Terrapins and became fast friends a decade ago. He also took me under his wing and became my business mentor,” said Mr. Mason, president and CEO of Jasco, manufacturer of analytical instrumentation for the scientific research community.
“John always had a positive attitude. It was part of his nature. When he walked into a room, he made you believe that you could do more and be more,” Mr. Mason said. “He had a unique way of accessing situations and how they could be beneficial to all parties. He was a true visionary, and I’ve lost a true friend. His loss will be felt.”
Said Ms. Wilson: “Even when he was taking radiation treatments, he was still going to work and planning the next project.”
“He still had lots of things in the works,” Mr. Mason said.
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Mr. Wilson enjoyed playing golf and vacationing with Judge Niemeyer and their wives.
“He liked playing golf and we liked talking business. He was a good bogey golfer. I liked talking about his business and he enjoyed talking about my cases,” Judge Niemeyer said. “When you play golf with a person, you see their real character, and John was a good guy.”
“I’ve enjoyed the full spectrum,” Mr. Wilson said in the What’s Up Media article. “So whether it’s developing a marina and seeing boats in the slips or, like with the beach club, seeing a family actually having a wedding ceremony ... that journey from A to B is what I enjoy.”
Due the current pandemic, plans for services are incomplete.