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Richard W. Hess, pilot and paper company director of operations, dies

Richard W. Hess was director of operations for a Baltimore paper company who earlier had been an aide to three secretaries of the Navy.
Richard W. Hess was director of operations for a Baltimore paper company who earlier had been an aide to three secretaries of the Navy. (Handout / HANDOUT)

Richard W. Hess, director of operations for a Baltimore paper company who earlier had been an aide to three secretaries of the Navy, was killed April 19 when a plane he was piloting crashed on Kent Island.

The Ellicott City resident was 63.

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Mr. Hess was at the controls of a rented white-and-red Van's RV 12 aircraft when the plane crashed into a field near Stevensville. Mr. Hess and a passenger, Janet Metz, 56, also of Ellicott City, were pronounced dead at the scene.

The son of Warren C. Hess, a career Air Force officer, and Catherine A. Spencer, an educator, Richard Warren Hess was born in Tachikawa, Japan, and raised in New Jersey, Illinois and Germany, where he graduated from Frankfurt American High School.

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After graduating in 1975 from the Naval Academy, he was commissioned an officer and entered the naval flight program at Pensacola, Fla. Graduating at the top of his class and earning his wings in 1977, Mr. Hess was assigned to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., where he flew Grumman A-6 attack planes.

Career assignments included tours in squadrons VA-128 Intruders, VA-95 Green Lizards and Va-165 Boomers, and command tours as executive officer and commanding officer of VA-52 Knightriders.

Bob Knowles, who was Mr. Hess' commanding officer at Whidbey Island in the late 1970s and early 1980s with VA-165, was also his navigator and bombardier.

"Rick followed the rules, was very steady and never did anything stupid with the airplane, and he had some of the toughest flying in the squadron," said Mr. Knowles of Albuquerque, who retired in 1993 from the Navy with the rank of captain.

"The A-6 is built for the bombardier and not the pilot," said Mr. Knowles. "I wanted to fly with him, and that's why I chose him — and I could have chosen anyone. We were given really tough challenges, and we were able to pull them off.

"He was a hell of a pilot, and if he was still alive, I'd still want to fly with him," he said.

He described Mr. Hess as "outgoing" and "one of the most fun guys in the squadron. He was like a little brother to me."

In 1986, Mr. Hess began a tour of duty at the Pentagon, where he was an aide to Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, and subsequently secretaries James H. Webb and William L. Ball.

Mr. Hess later flew in combat in Somalia and Iraq and was serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise at the time of his retirement in 1996.

He had earned a master's degree in 1990 in business from George Washington University, and after leaving the Navy, went to work in 1996 for International Paper Co. in Lock Haven, Pa.

"The biggest thing with Rick was that he was a great family man," said Dennis Castronguay who worked with Mr. Hess at International Paper Co. and later was plant manager.

"He was just a great guy, and we worked together for four years," said Mr. Castronguay who retired from Verso Paper Corp. in Bucksport, Maine, and lives in Orland, Maine.

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"When Rick came to Lock Haven, it was his first job out of the military. [He] came to us in a senior role and immediately made an impact on the company," Mr. Castronguay said. "He was a good leader, always had a smile and was great at problem solving. From the start, he was always looking at ways to improve things."

In 2000, Mr. Hess went to work for a paper company in Carrick-on-Shannon, Ireland, and later at XPEDX, a Hanover, Pa., paper company. He joined Leonard Paper Co. in 2007 as director of operations and continued working for the company until retiring in 2015.

"Rick was well respected, and he helped my family grow the business and improve the efficiency of the company," said Dan Leonard Jr., who is the Leonard Paper Co.'s general manager and worked closely with Mr. Hess. "When I told people here what had happened to Rick, there were plenty of tears."

Mr. Leonard said that because of Mr. Hess' military background, it would by easy to assume he would bring that background to his work as director of operations.

"You'd think he'd be tough — and he could be at times when needed — but he always took the gentle approach first. He was very compassionate and understanding," said Mr. Leonard, a resident of Ellicott City. "He was a very special person and very personal. He got to know all the employees on a personal level, and this brought the company together."

"Rick brought a huge degree of operational and logistical expertise to the company at a time when we were growing and needed some help," said Paul Baumann, sales manager. "He was an asset for all the time he was here.

"He could ... find a way to build consensus, no matter if it took him a year or more. He believed in compromise and the organization and moving forward together," said Mr. Baumann, who lives in Annapolis.

Mr. Hess earned flight instructor rating in 2006 and enjoyed training aspiring midshipmen aviators at Tipton Airfield near Fort Meade, family members said.

In addition to recreational flying, he enjoyed playing golf, tennis, fishing and spending time at a family cabin in Oakland in Western Maryland. He was also a Baltimore Orioles and Ravens fan.

Mr. Hess was a member of the Roman Catholic Church of the Resurrection, 3175 Paulskirk Drive, Ellicott City, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. today.

He is survived by his wife of 39 years, the former Susan Jeanne Zaruba; a son, Jonathan Richard Hess of Catonsville; three daughters, Meghan Elizabeth Hess of Baltimore, Susan Rebecca Gallagher of Ellicott City and Kristen Hess Reese of Alexandria, Va.; a sister, Linda Nostran of Mount Laurel, N.J.; and two grandchildren.

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