Dr. Philip Kenerick “Ken” Maher, a retired executive in the industrial chemical field, died of cancer complications Nov. 25 at the Gilchrist Center Towson. The former North Homeland resident was 88.
Born in Catonsville, he was the son of Florence O’Donnell and her husband, Thomas Francis Maher, president of the Mountain Spring Mineral Water Co.
He was a 1948 graduate of Loyola High School at Blakefield and earned a chemistry degree at Randolph-Macon College. In 1956 he received a doctorate in organic chemistry from the Catholic University of America.
Dr. Maher joined the Davison Division of W.R. Grace Co. in Baltimore.
Throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, Dr. Maher rose through the ranks at W.R. Grace and became its research department’s director.
His son, Ken Maher Jr., said his specialty was the study and use of catalysts, substances that are used to speed up chemical reactions.
“By 1970 my father began to explore other avenues and chart his own course within the chemical industry,” said his son, who sells real estate. "He noticed that zeolite catalysts, which are often used to clean industrial smokestacks, were themselves capable of being cleaned. It was a process known as regeneration that he refined and later puckishly referred to as industrial dry-cleaning.”
In 1974 Dr. Maher left W.R. Grace and founded Catalyst Recovery Inc. (CRI), a Baltimore firm for regenerating catalysts. As its CEO, he worked with colleagues at CRI to pioneer catalyst regeneration applications.
His son said Dr. Maher oversaw an international expansion of CRI. He had operations in Lafayette, Louisiana; Calgary, Alberta; Luxembourg; and Japan. The Shell Oil Co. bought his business in 1989.
“My father also expanded his influence and expertise in the field in 1978 when he teamed up with two other companies to form Katalistiks, a manufacturer of zeolite catalysts,” his son said. “In addition to dry-cleaning the catalysts, he was manufacturing them as well.”
His son said Katalistiks opened its first plant in Delfzijl, the Netherlands, and a second in Savannah, Georgia. Dr. Maher also had a research center in Leiderdorp, the Netherlands.
Katalistiks and CRI had their headquarters in Mount Washington on Newbury Street.
In 1991, Dr. Maher married Paula Dobbe, a Dutch citizen, who became both his business and life partner.
“He was an optimistic man. He never saw a dark day in his life and that was his strength,” she said. “He was never depressed. He was generous, too.”
In 1992, Dr. Maher brought out another regenerating process for catalysts and founded Tricat Inc. He had a plant in McAlester, Oklahoma.
“In order to establish a global footprint for Tricat, my father traveled in 1993 to the recently reunited Germany to scout locations for a possible plant,” his son said. “He worked with the German government which was anxious to revitalize industry in former East Germany."
Dr. Maher and his wife, who ran the office, moved to homes near Leipzig and in Berlin and remained there for three years.
Dr. Maher and his wife returned to Baltimore and sold the business in 1995 to Maryland investors led by the Kingdon Gould family.
He continued as a consultant for the company until he formally retired in 1999.
As Dr. Maher was leaving his career in chemistry, his wife was opening a floral business in the Ambassador apartments. She later moved her Dutch Floral Gardens to Belvedere Square.
“My father immersed himself in the floral business and enjoying his new role in support of his wife and her shop,” his son said. “He managed all financial affairs for the venture and was not above delivering flower arrangements when needed.”
Dr. Maher and his wife enjoyed vacations throughout Europe.
“He was my rock,” said his wife, Paula Dobbe-Maher. “Sometimes when I thought things were unsolvable, he was always there, always able to calm me down and provide peace of mind. He was so extremely intelligent and such a good analyzer. He would listen to me and explain how to work through each challenge and everything would be OK."
Said his son: “He had a great capacity to take care of people. I remember the times when my father took on college expenses for several family members and friends. He never complained about anything. He just enjoyed living a good life.”
In addition to his son and his wife of 28 years who operates the floral business, survivors include two daughters, Margaret Robinson of Sunderland, Massachusetts, and Beth Maher of Oakland, California; a brother, Dr. Ernie Maher of Chestertown; two sisters, Florence Cromwell of Sante Fe, New Mexico, and Mary Donna Anand of New York City; five grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. A son, Timothy Maher, died n 2007. His marriage to Peggy Waxter ended in divorce.
Services are private.