Joseph Burdis Jr., who became a member of the "Lucky Bastards Club" for surviving 25 harrowing airplane missions in World War II, then went on to oversee the expansion of Toyota dealerships throughout the mid-Atlantic area, died Aug. 15 of unknown causes at his daughter's home in Hampstead. The longtime Columbia resident was 92.
Known as "Big Joe" around the office, Mr. Burdis would help the owners of new Toyota dealerships get off the ground and then help them run their operations.
"He supported businessmen who were starting their businesses," said a daughter, Tracy Burdis Broccolino of Columbia. "He supported families and men and women who were starting from scratch and helped them continue and sustain their success."
Mr. Burdis was born in Pittsburgh in 1924. His father, Joseph Burdis Sr., was an immigrant from New Castle, England, who worked in the steel mills, and Helen Bowers Burdis, a homemaker.
After graduating from Turtle Creek High School in 1942, Mr. Burdis worked briefly as a machinist with the Union Railroad in East Pittsburgh before enlisting in the Army Air Corps — now the U.S. Air Force — that same year.
Stationed in Thetford, England, Mr. Burdis was a radio operator and gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress, a heavy bomber. His plane, nicknamed "Shoot the Works," was involved in missions to Russia. In Germany, the plane bombed targets in Berlin, aircraft plants in Munich, a ball bearing factory in Schweinfurt, docks in Bremen and Kiel and communications infrastructure in Paris and Brussels.
After bombing an armament factory, Mr. Burdis and his division were given safe haven in Russia. But their location was betrayed and they watched from ditches as the German forces bombed their grounded planes.
After flying 25 missions, Mr. Burdis was inducted into the "Lucky Bastards Club" — an apparent reference to the high chance that any mission could result in death. He went on to complete 10 more missions and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and other honors.
After his discharge, Mr. Burdis attended the University of Pittsburgh and studied business before entering the automotive industry, working for Ford Motor Co., Saab, Datsun and Toyota. He married Anna Marie Hopbell, and the couple had six children before divorcing.
In the late 1950s, Mr. Burdis married Blanche E. Wilson, who had become Ford Motor Co.'s first woman dealer in 1956. Mrs. Burdis continued in the car business for more than 40 years before retiring in 1992 as controller and partner at an Oldsmobile dealership in Glen Burnie.
In the early 1970s, Mr. and Mrs. Burdis moved to Columbia, where he worked for Central Atlantic Toyota until retiring as vice president in 1993. There, he assisted dealerships with all aspects of their business operations, from inventory and sales to hiring.
"He would advocate for the dealer back to the franchiser," Mrs. Broccolino said. "He would advocate for their cause and help them improve their business operations so they could be more profitable."
Carol Smith, Mr. Burdis's executive assistant for about 18 years, said he was known as one of the "founding fathers" of Toyota's mid-Atlantic operations and that he helped expand Toyota's reach when foreign-made cars were less commonplace.
"He made it his personal goal to make sure that Toyota was successful in this area," Mrs. Smith said. "He knew that Toyota was a good product, he knew it was going to be successful but it was going to take the right people to put it out there for the public to see."
Mrs. Smith said that Mr. Burdis was known as "Big Joe" and that he oversaw at least 200 dealerships in the region. As a boss, he could be demanding, but friendly. "You knew when he gave you a directive to get it done," she said.
Mr. Burdis was a longtime member of Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church in Columbia and was a member of the 388 Bomb Group Association. He also enjoyed golf. In the 1980s, he served as chairman of the board of the American Red Cross' Anne Arundel County chapter.
When his wife died in 1995, he visited her at the cemetery every day for years.
Funeral services will be held 10:30 a.m. Monday at Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church, 6410 Amherst Ave. in Columbia.
Besides his daughter, Mrs. Broccolino, Mr. Burdis is survived by four sons, Raymond Burdis of Apollo, Pa., Ronald Burdis of London, England, John Burdis of Hanover, Pennsylvania, and James Burdis of New Market; five daughters, Rita Gable of Pittsburgh; Roxanne Burdis of Pittsburgh; Renee Lenart of Pittsburgh; Roberta Norris of Hampstead; Kimberly Woodsmall of Leesburg, Va.; 21 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Mr. Burdis was also preceded in death by two sons, Richard John Burdis Sr. and Joseph William Burdis.