Robert “Bob” Catzen, a businessman and construction manager who was an enthusiastic windsurfer and kayaker, died of congestive heart failure March 11 at Roland Park Place. The former Bolton Hill resident was 94.
Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Hortense Bowman Catzen, a homemaker, and Bertram Harry Catzen, who owned the Baltimore Box Company. He grew up in Mount Washington near Pimlico Race Course.
Mr. Catzen attended Garrison Junior High School and Forest Park High School before transferring to Friends School of Baltimore. He was a 1946 graduate.
In a memoir, he wrote that years later he learned he was dyslexic and struggled academically. He said he “passed Latin by promising not to take it again.”
During his senior year at Friends School, he played on the football team, which had 11 starting players because of World War II. The team was co-champion of the 1945 Inter-State Athletic Conference.
Mr. Catzen attended the University of Virginia. He convinced the athletic director to set up a lacrosse program and patched together equipment from football helmets and and welders gloves. He was the team goalie and had 35 saves against the then-champion Johns Hopkins.
He met his future wife, Penny Zeisler, at her brother’s wedding in June 1951 at the George Hess home on Park Heights Avenue. He proposed to her on their second date, and they married on January 4, 1952.
According to a family biography, Mr. Catzen stayed at the University of Virginia for two years and then joined the family business, the Baltimore Box Company, on Key Highway at Covington Street. The firm made corrugated containers and protective packaging.
“He had worked summers at the box company since his childhood and understood the business from top to bottom,” said his daughter, Margaret “Meg” CatzenBrown. “My father was always a problem solver. He invented and holds patents for two machines (dye washer and perforator) that are still used in paper box manufacturing.”
Mr. Catzen was president and chief executive officer from 1959 until 1962.
He then formed Dalsemer Catzen & Associates, a consulting company that advised those in the paper industries.
Mr. Catzen was the president and chief executive officer from 1963 to 1991. The firm expanded into materials handling and construction management.
He also became involved in real estate development during the late 1980s and built apartments in Harford County.
“Bob was a great partner for 25 years,” said Richard Pearlstone, a business associate. “We never had an argument, and we always felt the same way about a deal.”
In his memoir, Mr. Catzen described himself: “I have a soft sentimental, caring side (have always cried at movies and when people are treated unfairly) and a strong, disciplined rugged, survival side. I define myself today as a fiscal conservative liberal; neither pure Republican nor Democrat.”
Mr. Catzen served on the boards of the Baltimore Jewish Community Center, Medical Eye Bank of Maryland, Greater Baltimore Committee, Associated Jewish Charities and Sinai Hospital of Baltimore during a lengthy period of his civic involvement.
“Bob Catzen made people around him better,” said Mark M. Caplan, a family friend and business partner. “With his positive attitude, he could bring out the best.”
Mr. Caplan also said, “Bob could be stubborn in a positive way. You did not roll Bob over. It took some convincing. He would have a point and stick with it. And he didn’t take no for an answer.”
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“Bob was a natural athlete and played as hard as he worked,” said his daughter Meg. “While he enjoyed land sports such as tennis, skiing, and hunting, he was happiest on the water with a stiff wind.”
He owned boats, the BobCat, the Hero, the Penny Wise I, and Penny Wise II, raced the Chesapeake Bay and sailed from Maine and Florida. He later windsurfed.
He was a charter member of the Baltimore Area Boardsailing Association.
His son Blazer Catzen said, “My father always looked forward and never looked back. He was skillful at negotiation and could be tough in business. But in his heart, he was a kid, a 94 year old kid.”
He gave up windsurfing at 87 and then took up kayaking. He paddled in the Gunpowder and at Stone Harbor, New Jersey through the summer of 2022.
Survivors include his wife, Penny Zeisler Catzen, a retired Garrison Forest School and Maryland Center for History and Culture librarian; a son, Blazer Catzen of Baltimore; a daughter, Margaret “Meg” CatzenBrown of Anacortes, Washington; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Services are private.