William Downes, who helped found the prominent Baltimore insurance firm Riggs, Counselman, Michaels and Downes, died Aug. 7 of pneumonia at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. The Towson resident was 95.
Mr. Downes also served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, where he completed 50 missions and flew in China, Burma and India.
"He wanted to provide for his family, to give us everything he didn't have growing up," said his daughter, Elinor Henry of Riderwood. "I think his definition of success was to provide well for his family and to be at the top of his game, whether in sports or the business world."
William Wallace Downes was born in Baltimore in 1922 to Worthington and Elinor Downes. His parents divorced and his mother worked as a secretary to support her children.
Mr. Downes grew up in Baltimore and graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 1940. After he graduated he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force for eight months to receive flight training, then joined the U.S. Army Air Corps once the U.S. joined World War II.
During the war, Mr. Downes was stationed in India, where he flew supply planes over the Himalayan mountains to China. He was later discharged as a major and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, an Air Medal with oak leaf clusters, and a medal from the Chinese government.
"He couldn't afford to go to college, his family didn't have the means, so going into the military for him was a wonderful alternative," said his son, William Downes Jr., of Salt Lake City, Utah. The younger Mr. Downes described his father as a "courageous" man who was very energetic.
"He was a go-for-it guy," Mr. Downes said. "Not much moss grew under his feet. He was always onto the next thing."
After the war, Mr. Downes lived for less than a year in Amsterdam, where he flew for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. But he failed a routine eye exam when his depth perception was found lacking, which ended his flying career.
Back in Baltimore, Mr. Downes joined Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. as a salesman in Baltimore and as a resident manager in Harrisburg, Pa.
He returned to Baltimore in 1951 and worked for the Tongue-Brooks Insurance Co. He later helped form the insurance company Michaels, Fenwick and Downes, which merged with Riggs Warfield Roloson in 1969 to become Riggs, Counselman, Michaels and Downes. Mr. Downes was an executive vice president with the company and retired in 1978.
"He strove to be at the top of his game all the time," Mrs. Henry said. "He wanted to build a good company that was successful."
The company is now known as RCM&D and operates in Towson.
In the late 1940s, he married Margaret Hopkins, a homemaker. They met when his mother rented out rooms in her house and Mrs. Downes was one of the tenants.
The Downes lived in the Ruxton area, where Mr. Downes tended a large vegetable garden and the couple threw large Saturday night dinner parties where Mr. Downes enjoyed dancing.