Rudolph James Redd Sr., engineer

Rudolph James Redd Sr.
Rudolph James Redd Sr. (unknown, Baltimore Sun)

Rudolph James "Rudy" Redd Sr., an engineer who spent his nearly 40-year career with the Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground and was an advocate for the mentally ill, died April 27 of a cardiac arrest at his home in the Versailles Apartments in Towson.

He was 88.

Mr. Redd was born in Charlottesville, Va. After the death of his mother when he was very young, he moved to a home on Druid Hill Avenue, where he was raised by Irene Scott, a close friend of his mother's.

After graduating in 1942 from Frederick Douglass High School, he began his college studies at what is now Morgan State University.

He left Morgan in 1944 when he enlisted in the Army, where he served as a rifleman. In 1946, he returned to Morgan and earned a bachelor's degree in 1948 in chemistry.

"In spite of racial discrimination in 1948, he secured a civilian position with the Department of the Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Edgewood," said his daughter, Teresa Redd of Silver Spring.

While working at APG, Mr. Redd continued taking graduate-level courses in chemistry and engineering at the University of Maryland, the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pennsylvania.

"His graduate studies and hard work propelled him from a GS-5 to a GS-12 chemical engineer who developed and tested protective masks and clothing for soldiers," his daughter said.

"By the time he retired in 1983, he had become the first African-American GS-15 in the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, where he supervised nearly 150 personnel in the Physical Protective Division," said Ms. Redd.

During this time, Mr. Redd also served as technical project officer for the United States-Germany Data Exchange Program. In 1972, the Army gave him its highest award for promoting equal opportunity.

In 1993, Morgan State University presented Mr. Redd its chemistry department's Herculson-Spaulding plaque, citing his "careful, meticulous, unrelenting, and no-nonsense approach" to his duties.

After retiring from Aberdeen Proving Ground, he worked full time for Redd's Sounds Unlimited Inc., a business he founded in 1961 while working for the Army.

With his son, Rudolph James Redd Jr., who lives in Baltimore, he installed stereo, public address and security alarm systems in businesses, churches and residences throughout the Baltimore area.

"As a small businessman, he went to great lengths to train young black men to install equipment, giving many their first start or a second chance," his daughter said.

For years, the elder Mr. Redd donated his time and technical skills at Towson United Methodist Church, where he was a member and assisted in managing the public address system.

He closed his business last year.

Mr. Redd was a longtime mental health advocate. After serving on the Baltimore County Charter Revision Committee from 1977 to 1978, he was appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to the civilian advisory board of Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville.

He also was a member of the advisory board of the Sheppard Pratt Health System.

From 2004 to 2006, he was first vice president of the National Alliance of Mental Illness, and in 2005 joined the leadership council of the North Baltimore Center, a community mental health center affiliated with Sheppard Pratt.

"For many years he was a premier advocate when it came to special care and treatment of the mentally ill, " said Dr. Steve Sharfstein, president of the Sheppard Pratt Health System.

"You could depend on Rudy. Every time I'd see him at meetings, he always had a big smile on his face and was one of the warmest individuals I've ever known," said Dr. Sharfstein. "He had tremendous compassion and was very dedicated to helping the mentally ill. He will be greatly missed."

Kate Farinholt, executive director of the Maryland chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, got to know Mr. Redd when both served on the board of NAMI's Metropolitan Baltimore chapter.

"He was just an amazing guy. He really got involved with NAMI because he had a relative, like me, who had a serious mental illness," said Ms. Farinholt.

"He made a huge investment in time with the organization, and he always found time to be engaged with the various advisory groups," she said. "He didn't just take a chair. He learned a lot and made it his business to learn everything he could about mental illness."

She described Mr. Redd as "the kindest gentleman I've ever known. He was truly a gentle man," but at the same time very firm in his concern and advocacy for the mentally ill.

"He always got his point across as an advocate in a very soft voice. Even though his health declined, he was still finding ways to stay involved," said Ms. Farinholt.

Mr. Redd, who had earlier lived in Cockeysville, was a ham radio operator and enjoyed talking to people around the world. He also liked flying radio-controlled airplanes, watching football and listening to jazz.

Marriages to the former Mary Camper, Celestine Holmes and Noel Willis ended in divorce.

A memorial service will be held at noon Friday at the March Funeral Home, 4300 Wabash Ave.

In addition to his two children, Mr. Redd is survived by two grandsons.