Ge­of­frey M. Foot­ner

Bal­ti­more ship­ping ex­ec­u­tive and author wrote about his­toric Ch­e­sa­peake Bay ves­sels

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Fred­er­ick N. Ras­mussen

Ge­of­frey M. Foot­ner, a former Bal­ti­more ship­ping ex­ec­u­tive who later be­came a noted mar­itime author, his­to­rian and lec­turer, died April 5 from heart fail­ure at Gilchrist Hos­pice Care in Tow­son. The Fells Point res­i­dent was 94.

“Ge­of­frey was a rough and tum­ble, ar­gu­men­ta­tive, sea­far­ing salt — and the best friend you could ever have,” said Scott S. Sheads, a re­tired Fort McHenry ranger, his­to­rian and author. “He’s home­ward bound now, and has left us on­shore with a lot of won­der­ful mem­o­ries.”

Ralph E. Eshel­man, a Lusby res­i­dent and an old friend, called Mr. Foot­ner “a char­ac­ter, and ev­ery­one who­ever met Ge­of­frey felt that way.”

“He was a guy who did what he wanted to, and didn’t care what other peo­ple thought,” said Mr. Eshel­man, also an author and his­to­rian.

Ge­of­frey Marsh Foot­ner was the son of Wil­liam Hul­bert Foot­ner, a Cana­dian-born author of “Mary­land Main and the East­ern Shore” and “Rivers of the East­ern Shore,” and Gla­dys Marsh, a home­maker.

He was born in Bal­ti­more and raised at Charles Gift, a Calvert County plan­ta­tion that over­looked the Patux­ent River.

Af­ter he grad­u­ated from Charlotte Hall Mil­i­tary Academy in Charlotte Hall in 1941, Mr. Foot­ner be­gan his col­lege stud­ies at what is now Loy­ola Uni­ver­sity Mary­land.

He left col­lege and joined the Navy, serv­ing as a lieu­tenant aboard ships in both the At­lantic and Pa­cific the­aters.

Af­ter be­ing dis­charged at war’s end, Mr. Foot­ner re­turned to Loy­ola and ob­tained a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in eco­nom­ics on the GI Bill. He later did grad­u­ate work at the Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity.

He was work­ing as a for­eign trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the As­so­ci­a­tion of Com­merce and sec­re­tary of the For­eign Trade Fo­rum of Bal­ti­more when he and part­ner Roberto M. Gu­tier­rez, who was in the for­ward­ing busi­ness in Bal­ti­more and Texas, es­tab­lished Foot­ner & Co. in 1950. The firm em­pha­sized in­ter­na­tional air cargo through the port.

Both men had been work­ing part time for a lo­cal ex­port house, and when the owner didn’t pay what they thought they de­served, they quit. One day they bumped into each other on the street and de­cided to go into busi­ness on their own.

“Be­liev­ing in the fu­ture of the port of Bal­ti­more, we will ser­vice lo­cal and in­land ship­pers ex­port­ing to all parts of the world,” Mr. Foot­ner told The Bal­ti­more Sun at the time. They fo­cused their busi­ness on ocean and air ship­ping, tap­ping both the port and the new Friend­ship In­ter­na­tional Air­port — now Bal­ti­more Wash­ing­ton In­ter­na­tional Thur­good Mar­shall Air­port.

Mr. Foot­ner said in a 1951 in­ter­view that his in­ter­est in mov­ing freight dated to his child­hood.

“I be­came in­trigued by for­eign na­tions, prod­ucts, and the idea of for­eign trade way back then,” he said. “The move­ment of ships and the like never got out of my sys­tem.”

A rev­o­lu­tion in ship­ping brought by the use of con­tain­ers and con­tainer ships was quickly adopted by Mr. Foot­ner and an­other part­ner, Rolf Graage, who es­tab­lished In­ter­modal Trans­ports Inc. The com­pany “in­tro­duced con­tainer­ized cargo trans­port to the port of Bal­ti­more,” a daugh­ter, Karen Foot­ner, of Neav­itt, Tal­bot County, wrote in a pro­file of her fa­ther.

“Con­tainer ships will en­able ocean trans­porta­tion to hold its po­si­tion in the jet age,” Mr. Foot­ner told The Sun.

Mr. Foot­ner es­tab­lished a third busi­ness, Bay Agen­cies, with of­fices in Bal­ti­more and Nor­folk, Va., which routed con­tainer ves­sels be­tween New York, Nor­folk, An­twerp and other north­ern Euro­pean ports.

He sold his in­ter­est in Foot­ner & Co. to Mr. Guitier­rez in 1972, and Bay Agen­cies to Hansen & Tide­mann Inc., a ship­ping agency, in 1979. Af­ter sell­ing In­ter­modal Trans­ports Inc., he left ship­ping but re­mained as a part-time con­sul­tant to the in­dus­try.

A former res­i­dent of Home­land, Mr. Foot­ner pur­chased and ren­o­vated an 18th­cen­tury house on Fells Street in Fells Point. Then, in the 1980s, he bought a farm in Hur­lock, where he prac­ticed or­ganic gardening, cul­ti­vated bees and raised veg­eta­bles and fruit, which he de­liv­ered to lo­cal restau­rants. He also grew grapes, which he sold to Mary­land wine­mak­ers.

He re­turned to Fells Point and spent the re­main­der of his life re­search­ing and writ­ing about the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, its health and the ves­sels that nav­i­gated its waters.

His first book, in 1991, was “The Last Gen­er­a­tion: A His­tory of a Ch­e­sa­peake Ship­build­ing Fam­ily — M.M. Davis and Son.” It told the story of five gen­er­a­tions of Davises, first in St. Michaels and later in Solomons, who built bugeyes, sloops, tugs, trawlers, yachts and Amer­ica’s Cup de­fend­ers. M.M. Davis and Son, which op­er­ated from 1885 to 1965, also built the Man­i­tou, on which Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy sailed.

His second book, in 1998, was “Tide­wa­ter Tri­umph: The De­vel­op­ment and World­wide Suc­cess of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pi­lot Schooner,” based on the 18th-cen­tury ships that be­came block­ade run­ners dur­ing the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War, pri­va­teer ves­sels dur­ing the War of 1812 and armed ves­sels for Euro­pean navies.

“The book in­ves­ti­gates the unique pi­lot schooner’s agility and speed in the con­text of naval ar­chi­tec­ture and so­cial, eco­nomic and tech­ni­cal his­tory,” his daugh­ter wrote.

His 2003 book, “USS Con­stel­la­tion: From Frigate to Sloop of War,” in­cluded in­for­ma­tion of its three cen­turies of op­er­a­tional his­tory, and the four ma­jor re­builds of its hull at naval yards.

“Foot­ner’s care­fully re­searched, ex­ten­sively doc­u­mented and el­e­gantly writ­ten book may in­deed be the last word,” wrote Spencer C. Tucker, who re­viewed the book for the Mary­land His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. “Foot­ner ar­gues con­vinc­ingly … that the Con­stel­la­tion of to­day is essen­tially the same ship that was launched in Bal­ti­more Har­bor in 1797.”

His last book, “A Bun­gled Af­fair: Bri­tain’s War on the United States, the Fi­nal Years, 1814-1815,” was pub­lished by Tide­wa­ter Book Co. in 2013. It stud­ied the four the­aters of war, the rise of Fells Point, the de­vel­op­ment of Bal­ti­more as a prom­i­nent Amer­i­can port and the de­vel­op­ment of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay schooner. It also ex­am­ined Bri­tish Ad­mi­ral Sir Alexan­der Cochrane’s direc­tion of the Royal Navy’s North Amer­i­can fleet at that time.

“Ge­of­frey al­ways had a great in­ter­est in Bal­ti­more his­tory and be­came a col­or­ful fig­ure in the city’s mar­itime his­tory,” Mr. Sheads said. “Over the years we had many lunches to­gether and he was still talk­ing about the War of 1812 as if it was still in progress. He was de­light­ful to lis­ten to.”

“I couldn’t get enough of him. He was unique,” Mr. Eshel­man said.

Mr. Foot­ner and Mr. Eshel­man shared an in­ter­est in the Calvert Ma­rine Mu­seum in Solomons, and both were re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing 35 water­col­ors and oils that had been painted by the late Bal­ti­more ma­rine artist Louis J. Feuchter, who lived from 1887 un­til 1957.

“He asked me one day, how can we save this im­por­tant col­lec­tion? Feuchter had sailed around the bay paint­ing Ch­e­sa­peake work­boats, pun­gies, bugeyes and other ves­sels,” said Mr. Eshel­man, who like Mr. Foot­ner has writ­ten widely about the bay.

“Ge­off and I found Feuchter’s brother in Bal­ti­more ... so we went to his house one day. He spoke to us through the screen,” Mr. Eshel­man re­called. “When we told him we were in­ter­est­ing in ac­quir­ing the paintings, he let us in. This was some­time in the 1960s. Ge­off was per­sis­tent and we even­tu­ally walked out with the water­col­ors. Calvert Ma­rine Mu­seum now has one of the largest col­lec­tions of his work.”

On an­other oc­ca­sion, when Mr. Foot­ner learned that there were sev­eral A. Aubrey Bo­dine pho­to­graphs he wished to get for the mu­seum col­lec­tion, he went and vis­ited the late Sun pho­tog­ra­pher’s daugh­ter, Jen­nifer Bo­dine.

“Ge­off had a way with peo­ple, and he was never pushy. She wound up giv­ing him the pic­tures he had re­quested,” Mr. Eshel­man said. “He was a be­hind-the-scenes guy who never wanted any recog­ni­tion. He was just a busi­ness­man who had a big heart. All he wanted to do was pro­tect and save the mar­itime his­tory of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.”

Mr. Foot­ner also wrote nu­mer­ous ar­ti­cles re­gard­ing the health of the bay and its es­tu­ar­ies. In a 1984 ar­ti­cle for The Sun, he com­pared the bay to Eng­land’s River Thames that was nursed back to health by the Thames River Au­thor­ity in the early 1980s af­ter be­ing de­clared dead in 1950.

“The Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, big­ger and more re­silient, did not be­gin to show se­ri­ous signs of stress and degra­da­tion un­til the years fol­low­ing World War II,” he wrote.

“But the two es­tu­ar­ies were af­fected by the same causes: in­com­plete waste treat­ment, in­dus­trial dis­charges of toxic ma­te­ri­als and runoff from ru­ral and ur­ban drains.”

Mr. Foot­ner’s wife of 32 years, the former Mar­garet Ann Mur­ray, died in 1979. At his re­quest, no ser­vices will be held. In ad­di­tion to his daugh­ter, he is sur­vived by two other daugh­ters, Mar­garet Foot­ner of White Hall and Nancy Foot­ner of Iowa City, Iowa.

Ge­of­frey M. Foot­ner talked about the War of 1812 “as if it was still in progress.”

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