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William C. 'Bill' Costello, former reporter for The Sun and Life magazine, dies

William C. "Bill" Costello was a former Evening Sun sportswriter and Life magazine reporter who later became advertising director for the old National Brewing Co.
William C. "Bill" Costello was a former Evening Sun sportswriter and Life magazine reporter who later became advertising director for the old National Brewing Co. (HANDOUT / HANDOUT)

William C. "Bill" Costello, a former Evening Sun sportswriter and Life magazine reporter who later became advertising director for the old National Brewing Co., died Sept 30 of congestive heart failure at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson.

The Towson resident was 82.

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"Bill was a guy who really enjoyed life, a good laugh, and when I think of him, I think of the laughs we shared," said former Evening Sun sports editor and columnist Bill Tanton.

"He was a real Bawlamer guy. He was a real good guy," said former Sun columnist and author Michael Olesker, who lives in Mount Washington.

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The son of William F. Costello Jr., an actor and salesman, and Muriel Haas Costello, a pianist and homemaker, William Charles Costello was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. When he was about 5 years old, he and his family moved to Tramore Avenue in Hamilton, and later to Catalpha Road.

He attended Mount Saint Joseph High School in Irvington and played football, basketball and baseball. He transferred to Towson Catholic High School, where he also played basketball, and graduated in 1952.

"Bill and I first met on Sept. 27, 1939, at the southeast corner of Tramore and Evergreen Avenue in Hamilton," Rowland E. "Rol" King, former director of engineering at the National Brewing Co. and a close friend of 77 years, wrote in an email. "He loved sports and being with people. He was very intelligent and fun-loving."

Mr. Costello was working at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant when he was drafted into the Army in 1953. He served two years in Germany and was discharged in 1955.

He enrolled at what is now Loyola University Maryland in 1955 but left when he was hired by The Evening Sun in 1956. In 1966, he completed his degree by attending night school on the GI Bill of Rights.

Mr. Tanton recalled that Paul Menton, then Evening Sun sports editor, hired Mr. Costello on the spot because he needed someone to cover a basketball championship series.

"Bill had no writing or newspaper experience, but Paul hired him anyway. So he came to me and asked how to write the story, and I told him to keep it to the basics and lay it all out there," Mr. Tanton said. "He continued to show that he had learned how to do the job and do it well ... and became a wonderful sportswriter."

While at the Evening Sun, Mr. Costello covered interscholastic sports, tennis and swimming.

"Bill brought a fan's insight to his coverage and a great storyteller's skills as well," said Mr. Olesker. "He wasn't just a guy for reciting stats. He told you about the human beings playing the games, and he did it with good cheer and humor and, when necessary, pathos."

After leaving The Evening Sun in 1962, Mr. Costello moved to New York City and joined the staff of Life magazine. He wrote a number of cover articles, including one on Roger Staubach, who was then a young quarterback at the Naval Academy.

"Among the stories I wrote were a profile of Yogi Berra when he was named manager of the Yankees; a wild 500-mile river race in Texas in which more than 200 boats started and only two finished; and a nail-biting nine-day coal mine rescue in Sheppton, Pa.," Mr. Costello wrote in a biographical sketch.

In 1964, Mr. Costello resigned from Life and returned to Baltimore when he was named director of advertising for the National Brewing Co.

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Working with W. B. Doner & Co., a Detroit and Baltimore agency, he wrote marketing plans and advertising copy for six beverages, including National Bohemian and National Premium beers and Colt 45 malt liquor. One of his campaigns won a Clio Award.

"Bill knew what it took to attract people to the brand. He knew how to tell a story using phrases like 'the Land of Pleasant Living,' jingles and those Billy Van commercials," Mr. King said in a telephone interview. "He really was a very, very creative person."

After leaving National Brewing in 1974, he worked for five years at the advertising firm of Matthews, Cremins, McLean, first in its Detroit office and later in Charlotte, N.C., as a senior vice president and general manager.

He later worked at agencies in Kansas City and Washington, then returned to Baltimore in 1987 with Freed & Associates. Here he won an Addy Award from the American Advertising Federation for ads he created for MARC. Other clients included Mano Swartz Furs and Carpet Fair.

In 1992, Mr. Costello established his own business as an advertising and marketing consultant. He retired in 2003.

Mr. Costello also occasionally wrote freelance articles. In 1978, he wrote for The Evening Sun about the death of Jim "Junior" Gilliam, a Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger player and coach who died of a stroke at 49.

In the article, he recalled seeing Mr. Gilliam, who in Baltimore was called "Junebug," early in his career. Mr. Gilliam played second base for the Elite Giants of the Negro Baseball Leagues at old Bugle Field.

"He had a wide gap between his front teeth, and that spring he was the best baseball infielder I had ever seen," he wrote.

Mr. Costello wrote that baseball fans know Baltimore produced Babe Ruth and Al Kaline, but said: "I, for one, am happy that Baltimore is also where the baseball talents of Junior Gilliam were sharpened. Thanks, Junebug, for stopping by."

On the 50th anniversary of the Colts' 23-17 overtime victory in 1958 over the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium — in what has been called the "Greatest Game Ever Played" — Mr. Costello wrote an article for the now-defunct Baltimore Examiner. In it, he recalled gathering with his Hamilton buddies to watch the game.

The contest was tied at 17 when suddenly the TV went blank. He and his friends were outraged that they might miss the end of the game but then: "The TV picture is back. A [Johnny] Unitas pass to Jim Mutscheller puts the ball one yard from the championship. On third down, [Alan] Ameche storms into the end zone. We dance and shout and hug. Baltimore's Colts are now NFL champions … What a glorious day!"

Mr. Costello was a jazz fan, and in his biography also said he enjoyed fiction, biographies, college basketball, art, golf and "good saloons."

A party celebrating his life will be held from noon to 2 p.m. Oct. 15 at Souris' Saloon, 537 York Road, Towson.

He is survived by daughters Karen Jenkins of Lutherville, and Sally Costello Rogers and Christina "Tina" Berger, both of Towson; eight grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. Another daughter, Margaret "Peggy" Costello, died in 2007. Marriages to the former Kathleen Daley and Ellis Rios Winter ended in divorce.

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