Thomas Sher­lock

Health in­sur­ance ex­ec­u­tive en­gi­neered the merger of Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Maryland

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES - By Tim Pru­dente tpru­dente@balt­sun.com

Thomas Henry Sher­lock, a health in­sur­ance ex­ec­u­tive who ad­vo­cated af­ford­abil­ity and mar­shaled the con­tentious merger of Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Maryland, of­ten with the lev­ity of a Gil­bert and Sul­li­van line, died Tues­day morn­ing.

Mr. Sher­lock died from com­pli­ca­tions of cancer and or­gan fail­ure at Gilchrist Hos­pice Care in Tow­son. He was 92 years old and had re­tired as an ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland.

“We can­not for­get that the cus­tomer — the em­ployer or in­di­vid­ual sub­scriber who is pay­ing his or her hard-earned dol­lars into this or­ga­ni­za­tion — comes first,” he said in an in­ter­view with the com­pany mag­a­zine upon re­tire­ment in 1985. “Stretch­ing our cus­tomers’ health care dol­lars and pro­vid­ing our cus­tomers with su­pe­rior ser­vice is our mis­sion in life.”

As CEO of Blue Cross of Maryland Inc., he la­bored five years to or­ches­trate the merger. Blue Shield paid doc­tors’ bills; Blue Cross, hos­pi­tal ben­e­fits. Their con­sol­i­da­tion was achieved in 1984 and pre­dicted to save con­sumers $90 mil­lion a year in pre­mi­ums, but it took a toll.

“Not only were the hours in­sane, but it was vi­ciously an­tag­o­nis­tic,” said his son, Dou­glas Sher­lock. “He was all-con­sumed with work.”

Mr. Sher­lock pressed on­ward with be­lief that con­sol­i­da­tion would help fam­i­lies af­ford health in­sur­ance. It was a mis­sion rooted in his own im­pov­er­ished boy­hood.

“It was al­ways Tom who said, ‘Well, how is this go­ing to serve the peo­ple?’ ” said Bernard Tres­nowski, former pres­i­dent of Blue Cross Blue Shield As­so­ci­a­tion. “I could see that com­ing out of him was his ex­pe­ri­ences as a youth and the dif­fi­cult time he had.”

Mr. Sher­lock was born in 1924 in Bal­ti­more and his fa­ther, Thomas Poisal Sher­lock, died three years later. Ac­cord­ing to fam­ily lore, Thomas Poisal Sher­lock, a wire ed­i­tor for the Bal­ti­more Sun­pa­pers, went one rainy day in 1927 to cover the scene af­ter a bomb ex­ploded on the porch of former Bal­ti­more Mayor Wil­liam Broen­ing. No one was hurt.

Thomas Poisal Sher­lock, how­ever, fell ill and spent a year in bed be­fore he died.

The fam­ily took a small apart­ment where Mr. Sher­lock slept on a pal­let in the din­ing room. His mother, Madeleine Coral Eisen­brandt Sher­lock, found work as a sec­re­tary.

Mr. Sher­lock patched his shoes with card­board and walked to school. Even­tu­ally, he re­ceived an or­phan’s schol­ar­ship to board at McDonogh School in Ow­ings Mills.

“He viewed McDonogh as some­thing that re­ally changed the tra­jec­tory of his life,” Dou­glas Sher­lock said.

He grad­u­ated in 1942 from McDonogh, five months af­ter Ja­panese air­craft at­tacked Pearl Har­bor. He en­listed in the Army Air Forces and flew a B-24 bomber. Mr. Sher­lock pre­pared for de­ploy­ment to the Pa­cific when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Na­gasaki. He never saw com­bat.

“He was grate­ful for that and slightly em­bar­rassed, too. He wished he had been able to do more,” Dou­glas Sher­lock said.

Mr. Sher­lock was dis­charged in De­cem­ber 1945 as a sec­ond lieu­tenant, then he stud­ied jour­nal­ism at the Univer­sity of Mis­souri. He grad­u­ated with a de­gree in ad­ver­tis­ing and public re­la­tions in 1948. He worked at a cork man­u­fac­turer in Lan­caster, Pa., the Arm­strong Cork Co., and at Fi­delity and De­posit Co. of Maryland, a bond and in­sur­ance com­pany.

In1958, he joined Blue Cross of Maryland as di­rec­tor of public re­la­tions. His role would ex­pand un­til he was named pres­i­dent and CEO in 1973.

Crit­ics had taken aim at the in­surer for its plush Tow­son head­quar­ters, $16 mil­lion op­er­at­ing profit and its board with few con­sumer rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Mr. Sher­lock steered Blue Cross to­ward a con­sumer-ori­ented ap­proach. He cam­paigned to place more public rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the board and em­barked on the merger that would con­sume nearly five years.

Amid tense ne­go­ti­a­tions, he main­tained hu­mor. Mr. Sher­lock was known to re­cite Gil­bert and Sul­li­van, and Shake­speare.

“He was a states­man,” Tres­nowski said. “His ma­jor con­cerns were to re­tain the ben­e­fits for the peo­ple Thomas Sher­lock la­bored five years to or­ches­trate the merger of in­sur­ers. of Maryland.”

State reg­u­la­tors ap­proved the merger in late 1984. “He felt like it was his crown­ing achieve­ment,” said Diane Sher­lock, his wife of 64 years.

In re­tire­ment, they toured Paris, slept in a tree­house bed-and-break­fast in Africa and vis­ited the pyra­mids of Egypt. Mr. Sher­lock main­tained an ad­ven­tur­ous streak.

Once he whisked his son, Dou­glas, for an ad­ven­ture to camp on some Ch­e­sa­peake Bay is­land. It was sum­mer and they didn’t count on the mos­qui­toes and bit­ing flies. Still, Dou­glas rel­ishes the mem­ory. And his fa­ther was the envy of the neigh­bor­hood for the papier-mache Hal­loween masks he crafted. His green Mar­tian mask came adorned with a screen-like ra­dio an­tenna.

Mr. Sher­lock lived 42 years in Rux­ton be­fore mov­ing with his wife to Blake­hurst Re­tire­ment Com­mu­nity in Tow­son.

“He was a fighter,” Diane Sher­lock said. “He was wheel­chair-bound for five years; with that wheel­chair, he was all over the place at Blake­hurst.”

Be­fore he died, Mr. Sher­lock qui­etly re­paid his tu­ition to McDonogh School at to­day’s costs.

A memo­rial ser­vice will be held Tues­day at 11 a.m. at As­cen­sion Lutheran Church in Tow­son, 7601 York Road.

Mr. Sher­lock is sur­vived by his wife, Diane Paula Costen of Tow­son. They have three chil­dren: Dou­glas Sher­lock, of Gwynedd Val­ley, Pa., and Scott Sher­lock and Jenifer Tacey Gra­cie of Bal­ti­more County, as well as eight grand­chil­dren.

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