Ralph L. “Tiggie” DeGroff Jr., a retired investment banker whose advocacy has aided the translation and publication of historical 17th century Dutch American documents, died April 19 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson at age 81. The Ruxton resident died from lung cancer.
Ralph Lynn DeGroff was born in Baltimore and raised on Taplow Road in Homeland. He was the son of Ralph L. DeGroff, a partner in the investment firm of Robert Garrett & Sons Inc., and Marion Wilson DeGroff, a homemaker.
Known as “Tiggie,” Mr. DeGroff was a 1954 graduate of Gilman School and obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1958 from Princeton University.
He was a 1960 graduate of the University of Virginia Graduate School of Business, now the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. He received a master’s degree in business.
Mr. DeGroff enlisted in the Army in 1960, serving with the Counter Intelligence Corps.
He began his business career when he joined the investment banking firm of Dillon, Read & Co. Inc. in New York City. He worked on corporate, municipal and international finance, and rose to become a senior vice president and partner in the firm. He left in 1981 and joined Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp. as a managing director.
Mr. DeGroff moved to Ruxton in 1990, yet spent his entire business career in New York. He retired in 1994.
“Ralph was an old-school investment banker and an old-school gentleman — the two are quite compatible,” said J. Brian Mullen, managing director of Coady Diemar Partners in New York City. “He had high standards and expected others to do the same. He was brilliant, took business seriously, and was tuned into what was going on.”
Mr. Mullen described his friend as always on an “even keel.” He also said Mr. DeGroff was a dutiful son.
“Every weekend, he’d commute to Baltimore to care for his elderly parents, who were in their 80s. He never broadcast this fact but just did it,” Mr. Mullen said.
While living in New York, Mr. DeGroff served on the board of the Henry Street Settlement House — a not-for-profit social service agency — and was its president for four years. He was also a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, the Society of Colonial Wars and the Holland Society of New York, where he had been a trustee for 35 years and a former treasurer.
In 2013, he was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal for his contributions to the Holland Society, a group composed of descendants of pioneers who had lived in “New Netherland” — New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut, Delaware and Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and New England — during or before 1675.
“His father, Ralph L. DeGroff, was extremely proud of his Dutch heritage and passed that pride along to his son,” said David F. Woods, of Longmeadow, Mass., a close friend of Mr. DeGroff’s since they were both students at Gilman.
In the 1970s, Mr. DeGroff’s father became head of a committee whose mission was to translate into English the documents of New Netherland. The documents had remained untranslated because so few people could read Old Dutch.
Known as the New Netherland Project, the effort involved 17th century documents that were held in the New York State Library in Albany. The elder Mr. DeGroff turned to Dr. Charles-Theodor Gehring of Altamont, N.Y., a translator and editor who at the time was the only man in America translating 17th century Dutch documents into English.
Dr. Gehring has continued to work on the project since 1974.
“I never thought I’d stay that long on a project … but the records are so interesting I can’t possibly leave them,” said Dr. Gehring, whose latest translation, “Pieter Stuyvesant Council Minutes VIII 1656-1658,” has just been published.
“Ralph’s father helped with funding sources and was always very supportive of the work, and his son took over when his father died,” he said. “He supported us in a like manner and was interested in what we were doing. He was always asking about the progress we were making and always had good questions.”
In the beginning, the elder Mr. DeGroff turned to New York Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller — who was of Dutch descent — for funding and asked him for $115,000.
“The governor replied, ‘I thought you were talking about real money,’ ’’ said Dr. Gehring. Additional funding came from Corning Glass, the 1976 Bicentennial Commission and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The total volumes to be published will be 24. “So far, we’ve done 18 with six to go,” Dr. Gehring said.
Dr. Gehring dedicated the most recent volume to the younger Mr. DeGroff. In it, he wrote: “De appel valt nier ver van de boom,” which is Dutch for “The apple falls not far from the tree.”
“Like father like son, Ralph Lynn DeGroff Jr. continues the steadfast support of the translation project. To him this volume is dedicated,” Dr. Gehring wrote.
Mr. DeGroff was recently presented The New Netherlands Institute Alice P. Kenney Award “in recognition for his significant contribution to colonial Dutch studies ... and in particular for the translation work of the New Netherlands Project.”
Education was a dominating focus of his life. He served two terms on the alumni board at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, and served as Princeton class secretary from 1983 until shortly before his death. He had also been his Gilman class secretary, and a Gilman trustee from 1990 to 1998.
Gilman honored him with its Dawson L. Farber Award for “demonstrated loyalty, devotion, selfless service, affection, enthusiasm and spirit for Gilman School.”
In other endeavors, he was a member of the Maryland Club and served on the boards of the Elkridge Club and the Hillsboro Club in Hillsboro Beach, Fla.
“Ralph was always the consummate gentleman in the true sense of the word,” said his wife of 29 years, the former Marion Buckler Parsons. “He had legions of friends. He adored them, and they him.”
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. May 8 at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St.
In addition to his wife, Mr. DeGroff is survived by a stepson, Andrew Evans Sinwell of Dallas; a stepdaughter, Marion Sinwell Smith of Wiltondale; a sister, Lynn DeGroff Lafferty of Towson; and five granddaughters.