Joseph E. "Joe" Gross, former sports editor of The Capital in Annapolis who abandoned an engineering career to become a sportswriter, died Wednesday of heart failure at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis. He was 72.
"Joe was just a delightful person. He enjoyed what he was doing, and it showed," said Jerry Jackson, current sports editor of The Capital.
Joseph Emmanuel Gross was born in Philadelphia and raised in Langhorne, Pa., in Bucks County, where he graduated in 1958 from Neshaminy High School.
Mr. Gross attended Temple University on a baseball scholarship and later dropped out to serve in the Navy from 1962 to 1966.
While in the Navy, he earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Hawaii. After returning home, he took a job with an engineering firm in Levittown, Pa., across the street from the Bucks County Courier-Times.
"One day he walked across the street and asked if he could do part-time sports reporting. He began working freelance sports reporting for the paper while continuing to work as an engineer, which he found to be boring," said his wife of 37 years, the former Susan Cloud, a reporter who met her husband at The Capital.
"When he got pneumonia, his doctor said he could no longer go on working two jobs, so he quit engineering when he answered an advertisement for a full-time job at The Capital," said Mrs. Gross.
When he joined The Capital in 1973, its sports coverage was centered primarily on high school, recreation and other local sports.
"People were always stopping him in recent years telling him that he had covered them years ago at Brooklyn Park, Severna Park or some other high school," said Mr. Jackson.
Later, Mr. Gross expanded sports coverage to include the Colts, Orioles, Redskins and Washington Bullets (now Wizards).
He took readers to the World Series when the Orioles were in it, as well as covering the Redskins when they were in the Super Bowl and the Bullets in the NBA finals. He covered the Olympics and the America's Cup races.
Mr. Gross also increased and handled the paper's coverage of the various athletic programs at the Naval Academy.
One of his primary sports interests was professional boxing. He liked to tell stories about the match between Muhammad Ali and Jimmy Young that he covered in 1974 at the old Capital Centre.
"Joe was such an open and friendly person. Some people can be standoffish in the press box, but not Joe. He liked the younger guys and liked showing them the ropes," said Mr. Jackson. "He was such a great storyteller that people naturally gravitated to him."
He said that Mr. Gross enjoyed wide popularity.
"The people of Annapolis loved him. He cut a pretty wide swath in this town," he said.
"He loved Navy sports but could be tough on them when he needed to be," said Mr. Jackson. "Sometimes there were columns readers didn't like, but he could take the heat. He was not afraid of criticism. He was just a good fellow."
Mr. Gross also was a newsroom mentor who helped many reporters such as Paul McMullen, who later joined The Evening Sun sports department, and Keith Mills, who became a sports broadcaster, said Mr. Jackson.
"He mentored lots and lots of guys," he said.
In addition to his sports work, Mr. Gross also found time to write a column, "Talk of the Town."
"Joe was a jack-of-all-trades and 'Talk of the Town' was vignettes about life in Annapolis," said Mr. Jackson. "He was a hard worker."
Retired Anne Arundel County District Judge James W. "Jack" Dryden lives in the same Annapolis neighborhood as Mr. Gross.
"Joe was just a really nice guy who loved people. He loved people and he loved sports, and it was fun to hear him talk about people in sports and how they appeared to be and how they really were," he said. "He was really a raconteur."
The National Sportswriters and Sportscasters named Mr. Gross Maryland Sportswriter of the Year twice, and he earned numerous writing awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors and the Maryland-D.C.-Delaware Press Association.
He was an active member for many years and had served in 1983 as president of the Touchdown Club of Annapolis. He also had been a board member of the Annapolis Boys and Girls Club and had coached recreation teams for the Peninsula Athletic League and the Annapolis Optimists.
Mr. Gross, who lived on West Street, retired in 2007 from The Capital.
At his death, he was working on a book about William C. "Willie" McCool, the Naval Academy cross-country runner and 1983 graduate who was piloting the ill-fated space shuttle Columbia when it disintegrated in 2003 upon re-entry over East Texas, killing all aboard.
Mr. Gross was active in the cultural life of Annapolis and served on the boards of the Annapolis Fine Arts Foundation, Children's Theatre of Annapolis and Annapolis Opera.
Services will be held at noon Tuesday at Congregation Kol Shalom, 1900 Hidden Meadow Lane, Annapolis.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Gross is survived by a son, Max Gross of Annapolis; a daughter, Mara Archer of Tucson, Ariz.; a brother, Frank Gross, and a sister, Diane Levin, both of Cornwall Heights, Pa.