Monday, June 12, 2017

William S. Warner: A Life in the WIN Column

Time Waits For No One: William S. Warner in 2012

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground
Man comes and tills the fields and lies beneath
And after many a summer dies the swan

- "Tithonus," Tennyson

On the night of June 7, 2017, my dad WILLIAM S. WARNER, 94, passed away in his sleep. He was two weeks shy of his his 95th birthday and went peacefully and with dignity, which is the way to go if you have a choice. As my wife Amy and I entered his room in the health center of the Blakehurst Senior Living Community in Towson, the O's game was blaring on the TV in the background and, right as we reached his bed, Trey "Boom Boom" Mancini hit a walk-off home run to beat the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates in extra innings. I'd like to think his parting spirit had something to do with it - that this longtime Orioles fan insisted he go out a winner, literally. In fact, as O's broadcaster Joe Angel would say, I think you could put his whole life "in the Win column."

Cheers and Tears: June 7 was a night of Boom Boom and Bye Bye

I didn't really get to know and appreciate my dad until rather late in life, after he retired and became a fixture at Blakehurst. But I came to realize that he was a pretty cool guy. And I think he would be amused and surprised by how much he truly influenced, directly or indirectly, his often wayward son. In my youth I ignored most of his good advice, only to see how right he was about many things in hindsight. He was a planner, a provider and a bottom-line realist. These are all qualities that define his generation, the generation that lived through the Great Depression and World War II. The one rightly called "The Greatest Generation."

Portrait of the Pilot as a Young Aviation Cadet: William S. Warner astride his flight school training plane

His experiences as a pilot in the U.S. Navy especially helped define his self-reliance, toughness and work ethic. After all, when you're flying a high-speed plane high above the earth, any error in judgment can result in instant death. There is no room for error, or excuses. Or, as the Navy Flyer's Creed (a card issued to all flyers that I recently discovered in a box of dad's documents) puts it: "I am a United States Navy flyer...When the going is fast and rough I will not falter. I will be uncompromising in every blow I strike. I will be humble in victory."

When a flight instructor threatened to flunk him for being late for training, he was told, "I don't want excuses, Warner - I want results. Got that?" Just the facts, ma'am, as Joe Friday would say. My dad was never again late for anything, during the war or after. Those words echo in my mind whenever I find myself or someone else whining about their fate or making excuses. The experience gave my dad a bullshit meter that he never lost - and explains a lot about why he detested our most recently elected president (he is spared having to deal with him now, a silver lining or sorts, I suppose). I use another one of my dad's go-to quotes - "You get what you pay for" (which he would often utter in response to my penny-pinching ways) - virtually every day at the library, usually when some ingrate complains about the computers being down or their CDs being scratched. Like my dad, I tend to cut through the crap that clogs the drain.

Following is a brief look back at who the man we called "Duke" was, written in newspaper obituary style because, well, these were the notes I prepared when sending the notification to the Baltimore Sun's obit writer.


WILLIAM STONE WARNER was the beloved husband of the late Emaroy Soulsby Warner, dear father of William S. Warner Jr., Thomas S. Warner and the late Nancy Warner Aspinwall, grandfather of Ashley Warner McGarrity and William Gilmore Warner, and great-grandfather of William (Liam) Duke Warner.

The Duke & His Boys: WSW Jr., TSW and  WSW Sr. in 2012

Four Generations of William Warners: William "Liam" Warner, William G. Warner, William S. Warner Jr. and William S. Warner

The late great Emaroy S. Warner (d. 2002) and Nancy Warner Aspinwall (d. 2006)

William S. Warner and the late Nancy Warner Aspinwall

WSW's beautiful granddaughter Ashley Warner McGarrity

The son of Dr. Howard Hoge Warner and Ruth Stone, and sibling of the late Howard H. Warner Jr., William Warner was born in Baltimore and raised on Garrison Boulevard in Forest Park. He was actually a twin, but his sister Nancy Janney Warner was a "blue baby" who died within a week; he later named his own daughter, Nancy Stewart Warner, after her. As a youth, he spent several summers at his family's Evergreen Farm in Lincoln, Loudoun County, Virginia. Tuberculosis outbreaks were not uncommon in Baltimore in the 1930s, and Dr. Warner prescribed getaways to the clean country air of Loudoun County as a preventive measure for his family.

Dr. Howard H. Warner and Ruth Stone Warner at Evergreen Farm

Dad and his older brother Howard were members of a group of Forest Park High School friends known as The Beeler Boys (named after a newspaper cartoon character), where he got the nickname "The Duke." His great-grandson takes his middle name from this nickname. The other Beeler Boys were: Doc, Cappy, Brownie, Mooch, Ox, Pug, Stook, Jake and Larry.

Duke Warner cartoon by Beeler Boy (and future brother-in-law) Robert "Larry" Soulsby

At Forest Park, "Duke" was a member of the Boys' Leaders and Treasurer Opportunity clubs. His yearbook page quote was: "They like him best who know him best."

William Stone Warner, Forest Park Class of 1940

"Duke," 1940

Graduating from Forest Park High School in 1940, he joined the United States Navy as a pilot upon the outbreak of World War II. As a Lieutenant Commander, he flew PBM Mariners - the flying boat patrol bomber built at Baltimore's Glenn L. Martin Company - in the Galapagos Islands off the South American coastline.

The PBM-5 Mariner flying boat with insert pic of William Warner

The Galapagos Islands

Some of his flights made his hair stand on end

I wouldn't mess with this guy - would you? (His bomber jacket was a hand-me-down that I wore throughout college until it literally disintegrated.)

WSW after receiving his Wings of Gold, September 1943

WSW at ease, smiling in a Hollywood glamour pose

Lieutenant Commander William S. Warner, September 1944

Upon crossing the Equator on board the U.S. Navy ship Barnegat, he passed a wild seaman's hazing ritual and was initiated into the U.S. Navy's "Ancient Order of the Deep." (Though my dad insisted that what happens in the Equator stays in the Equator, I got the feeling that it basically involved a lot of drinking and "Fully Monty" dancing!)

The Ancient Order of the Deep

On Galapagos, my dad used to tell me that there wasn't much to do between flying missions, and that the men of his squadron, VP-209, would amuse themselves by getting their pet billy goat "Blackie" drunk and holding boxing matches. My dad was proud that he was undefeated as an amateur boxer there, though occasional collusion among the battling pilots was not unheard of (wink, wink).

Blackie the squadron's pet billy goat

Naturally, there was a lot of drinking. For courage, for nerves, for boredom, for relaxation. Below is a picture of his squadron drinking in the Galapagos Officers Club (my dad is third from left):

L-R: Lt. Bob Steven, Ens. Tom Mahoney, Ens. William Warner, Lt. Alan Pederson, Lt. Bob Wilson, Lt. Ed Prince, Ens. Fredericks, Ens. DeRosa

On January 24, 1945, he married his high school sweetheart Emaroy M. Soulsby, daughter of Robert H. "Harry" Soulsby and Emary Stewart, while on leave in Baltimore. (No one ever got my mom's unusual name right; she went by Emy, but people mistakenly assumed her name was Emma, Emily or Amy. A friend of my sister's even called her, rather annoyingly, "Auntie Em." My dad called her simply "Bo." I have no idea why. The Warner kids later teasingly called her "German Bo," "Germ" for short, in homage to her big bouffant of hair, which we thought resembled a German WWII helmet.)

Lieutenant William S. Warner and bride Emaroy Soulsby Warner, January 1945

Suave as hell: WSW on his honeymoon at the Billy Rose Diamond Horseshoe, January 28, 1945

Duke and Germ in later years, when big glasses were in vogue

Anglophiles Duke and Germ get Victorian-Jiggy with it at a Charles Dickens Party, 1999

William Warner served in the U.S. Navy from October 1942 to November 1945. He briefly considered staying in the Navy or becoming a commercial pilot, but decided against it (perhaps because he wanted to raise a family and have a more "grounded," less risky profession). After the war, he attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and became a stockbroker at Stein Bros. & Boyce, where broker-about-town "Bill Warner" was featured in the firm's early 1960s "We Work Hard!" advertising campaign, as shown below.

"There's nothing leisurely about Bill. He's typical Stein Bros. and Boyce. Our business isn't for slow pokes. Things can happen lickety-split in the market, and you've got to be on your toes all the time. And we mean all the time! At SB&B we're day people and night people too. It's what we call our 'WORK HARD' approach to things." 

"Bill" Warner also served as President of the Bond Club. He later worked at Shearson and its many incarnations, including Shearson/American Express and Shearson Lehman Brothers.

In 1964, he moved his family to Rodgers Forge, where his children attended school and he served as Commissioner of the Rodgers Forge Baseball League. In the 1970s, he was one of the first financial analysts to appear on Maryland Public Television's "Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser" program.

Upon retirement, he briefly managed a housing development in Bel Air while continuing to manage his stock portfolio as a private investor. His hobbies included travel, genealogy, antique collecting, metal detecting, Civil War history, thoroughbred racing handicapping, listening to jazz music (he had great taste and was especially for fond of sax men like Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt and Stan Getz - and Tony Bennett led him to discover and appreciate Lady Gaga!) and following the Baltimore Orioles baseball team.

Dad collected antiques and fine furniture

He loved seafood, attending 23 consecutive Chincoteague Seafood Festivals and making sure oysters on the half shell were a part of his Thanksgiving Day menu.

Sucking down oysters in Chincoteague with broker buddy Tommy Brager

He also looked forward each day to his evening cocktail, of which his preferred brand was Evan Williams Black Label Kentucky Bourbon. (When he later went into the health center at his retirement home, they monitored his meds and cocktails. He would then ask me to sneak in pints of Evan Williams for him to stash in his sock drawer. He never wanted to run out or be caught short!)

When it came to cocktails, William Warner was an ultra Liberal!

Dad also enjoyed a good Bloody Mary in the summertime

Following the death of his wife in 2002, my dad moved into Towson's Blakehurst Senior Living Community, where he was a popular resident known for his fashionable wardrobe (only he could get away with making a pink blazer look sporty), astute thoroughbred horse racing picks and baseball knowledge. There he was a constant companion to another resident, Elsie F. O'Malley, until her death in 2011.

Elsie O'Malley and The Duke

Elsie O'Malley and Dad in his famous manly pink jacket (he insisted it was "salmon" colored)

Bill Warner and Elsie O'Malley on Fantasy Island

The Warner clan gathers at Elsie O'Malley's 90th Birthday Party: Amy Davis Warner, Tom Warner, William Warner (again in the pink jacket!), William Warner Jr., the late Candy Gilmore Warner and Bill Aspinwall (husband of the late Nancy Warner)

My dad was fascinated by genealogy and tracing his family's Quaker roots. He belonged to countless historical societies and was particularly keen on researching the Warner family line in Loudoun County, Virginia, where his father once owned a farm in Lincoln. After a bout of pneumonia in 2012 cancelled his plans to make a final trip to Scotland with my brother, Billy Jr. came up with a backup plan: the three of us would visit the Warner ancestral home of Evergreen Farm and tour the Quaker meeting house in nearby Lincoln. My dad loved this trip down memory lane, the highlight of which was meeting the current owners of Evergreen Farm, Jeff and Nancy LeSourd; they invited us inside and were delighted to hear the history of the place from one of its previous residents. (For a full travelogue of this trip, see my blog posting "My Old Virginia Home.")

William Warner with Nancy and Jeff LeSourd outside Evergreen Farm

The Warner Boys with Evergreen Farm's Jeff LeSourd

William Warner regales the LeSourds with Evergreen Farm anecdotes

2012 was also the year my dad celebrated his 90th birthday. We booked the main auditorium at Blakehurst to hold a celebration honoring this milestone, which was attended by countless Blakehurst residents, friends and family members. It was a big deal, reflecting my dad's popularity and standing among his peers.

Four Bills at his 90th: Billy G. Warner, Billy Warner Jr., Bill Warner Sr. and Bill Aspinwall

William S. Warner and Thomas S. Warner at his 90th Birthday Party, Blakehurst

L.L. Cool J.: Ladies Love Cool Jacket

Besides his antiques and fine art, his Blakehurst apartment was adorned with memorabilia from America's favorite pastime, including his prized signed postcard from Lou Gehrig and signed pictures of fellow legends Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.

Dad's Baseball Hall of Famers Gallery at Blakehurst

As his health faded in the last few months, he seemed resigned to his fate. As a shrewd former financial investor, he knew what was coming - successful financial investors don't get where they are by scratching their heads and consulting the Magic Eightball for advice. Savvy brokers know how to read signs and interpret trends (as do successful horse handicappers, I might add), and I'm sure his sudden weight loss signaled to him that it was time to sell short. Recalling one of his favorite childhood radio heroes, he would say, "Well, you never know what's waiting for you just around the corner...only The Shadow knows!" But he knew, too, and he was prepared. He was a planner who made sure he crossed his T's and dotted his I's. He had done all he could do. It was time. And it was a good life.

The Duke at his grandson's wedding, another check on his bucket list: Billy G. Warner, William S. Warner and Mandy Warner. His health prevented him from attending his granddaughter Ashley's wedding.

In the end, I think he was simply lonely. He had outlived most of his friends and family (his wife, his daughter, his daughter-in-law, his Blakehurst "girlfriend"), had seen his grandchildren get married, had seen the birth of his great-grandson Liam Duke. At the quiet limit of the world, I believe he was at peace and longing to reunite with all those friends and loved ones up above. A pilot ready once more to take off for unknown horizons.

At the Blakehurst Memorial Day Picnic with Amy Davis Warner, just nine days before his passing

Like any human being, he was not without his faults - who among us is? Patience was not one of his virtues, but with a son like me anyone's patience would wear out (I can still recall the many times he had to pick me up at 2 or 3 in the morning, following some automotive mishap), and he always saved my bacon and got me out of my many misadventures.

Testing the limits of my dad's patience, 1970

As a driver, well, his road rage was legendary - no doubt a genetic trait passed down to both his sons (who proudly carry on the family tradition). And there was an unfortunate schism with his brother Howard (complicated but justified) that was never resolved. But these quirks are mere footnotes in the long and voluminous story of his life. (Or, as a wise man once said: before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes - then you have his shoes and you're a mile away!)

He was a good guy. A born story teller, a charming host, and generous to a fault when it came to looking out for his children and his children's children. My brother and late sister inherited a lot of his outgoing personality; like him, they liked people and were always comfortable in a social setting (as my late sister-in-law Candy used to say, "Your brother is in his natural element at a cocktail party.").

I know my brother Billy will miss talking to him on the phone every night (a tradition of "checking in" that he inherited from my sister Nancy). And I will miss watching and talking about Orioles baseball, horse racing and family history with him. Especially the stories. Even when his memory started to falter near the end, when he wasn't sure what day of the week it was, he could still recall obscure, unexpected details about some things. When Amy and I recounted how we found a vintage Uncle Wiggily board game, and asked him if he ever read the books by Howard R. Garis, he smiled and started naming all the characters - "Oh yes, Dr. Possum, Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy, Lulu and Jimmie Wibblewobble..."

Thankfully I anticipated getting some of his anecdotes archived and videotaped some of his recollections. In that way, along with these pictures and reminiscences, his legacy and influence will carry on. And in the name of his great-grandson.

A memorial service will be held Friday, June 30 at 11 a.m. at Church of the Redeemer, where my dad's remains will join my mother, sister, and sister-in-law in the columbarium. There will be a reception in the adjacent parish hall following a brief interment service for immediate family.

Related Warner Family Links:
William S. Warner, stockbroker and WWII pilot (Baltimore Sun obit)
"Pictures of a Photogenic Patriarch" (WSW photo album)
Duke's 90th Birthday Party at Blakehurst (video)
Duke Takes Stock: A Warner Family History (video)
"Little Sister" (Nancy Warner Aspinwall, 1952-2006)
Nancy Warner Aspinwall Tribute (video)
Nancy Warner Aspinwall - A Picture Book (photo album)
"A Remembrance of Moms Past" (Emaroy Soulsby Warner, 1923-2002)
Emaroy Soulsby Warner Tribute (video)
Candy Gilmore Warner (1949-2016)
Candy Warner Tribute (video)

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