Morton J. Macks


Morton J. Macks, a Baltimore leader in building and philanthropy, passed away April 30 but left his mark as an innovator in real estate and changed the shape of Jewish education and camping. Family, friends and colleagues fondly remembered him for his words of wisdom and
advice that influenced the lives of many.

Born in Baltimore in 1925 to Julius and Martha, he grew up on Belvedere Avenue. Urged to excel in education, especially by his mother, Macks finished public school early then attended Johns Hopkins University on a full scholarship when he was 16. After he graduated in 1944 from the School of Engineering, he became an officer in the Navy construction’s battalion. The following year he was the officer in charge of construction of residential facilities for naval support personnel in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan.

During his time in the military, he commandeered a plane to Shanghai, China from Okinawa in order to barter matzah — available in abundance to Jewish soldiers during Passover — for kosher chickens, a special treat for the Jewish troops.

In 1946, Macks returned to Baltimore and with small loans from several relatives, began his work in real estate with his newly founded company, Chesapeake Realty Partners. After success at building and selling individual homes in Baltimore City, he changed his focus to construct suburban communities, the first one in Reisterstown and a second in northern Anne Arundel County. Over the course of the next 80 years, Macks and his children would construct approximately 30,000 homes, 7,500 apartments and more than 1 million square feet of retail space.

Macks met Louise Damsky in 1951 and the couple became engaged less than three months later. They married in 1952 and together raised three children, Martha, Genine and Lawrence.

As a young boy, wrote Lawrence in the eulogy to his father, “many a night I would fall asleep to his voice talking to construction superintendents or business associates on the phone or to his using the portable Dictaphone that was always in his briefcase. ‘Miriam take a letter’ was a refrain that would help me drift off to sleep,” only to be woken later to a tender kiss placed on his forehead.

“Sincerity, thoughtfulness, caring, humility and putting others ahead of himself” are traits that come to mind for many when they think of Macks, wrote Lawrence.

Quickly becoming a well-known, respected and innovative member of the building industry, in 1960, Macks bought and built up Maryland Housing Corporation, and soon after, MHC’s pre-fabricated houses from the factory on Southwestern Boulevard were transported to builders all along the East Coast. It was in one of these homes, shipped to Moscow for an exhibit that touted American commercial innovation, that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Vice President Richard Nixon engaged in one of their famous “kitchen debates.”

Creator of the popular Parade of Homes and founder of the Home Builders Institute, Macks was lauded as Homebuilder of the Year twice — a decade apart — and also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Homebuilders Association of Maryland.

Martha Macks-Kahn, the eldest daughter, remembered, “When we were small, he would drive us around to his [construction] jobs on Sundays” to look at his projects and even toured the Parade of Homes. “He alternated this with taking us to the zoo.”

Macks-Kahn added that she learned creative business approaches from her father, helping her succeed as a gallery owner.

In the 1980s Macks transferred leadership of his real estate business to Lawrence and his son-in-law,
Josh Fidler.

“The main thing that stands out in my personal relationship with him,” recalled Fidler, “is that Morty
engaged me, he asked me specifically to pursue his goals with regard to Jewish camping and retreating,” which included traveling together to area camps and retreat centers and led to Fidler’s positions as founding layperson at the Pearlstone Retreat Center and as board chair of the Capital Camps and Retreat Center.

“Morty was an extraordinary values-oriented guy, and the opportunity to work and practice philanthropy and community engagement by his side was very meaningful,” said Fidler.

In 1964, Macks became chairman of Beth Tfiloh Congregation, a position he held for two years. In that
capacity, he directed the building committee that designed and built both the main sanctuary and the
elementary school. Thirty years later, working with Hal Dahan and Howard Brown, Macks was a founder of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School and remained a major benefactor through annual scholarships, support for the library and arts education and the endowment fund.

“He was really a giant, he was a remarkable person,” said Beth Tfiloh’s Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg. “He never forgot his roots; he was always fair and honest, and he was willing to be a help to anyone at any time.”

Macks further served the Jewish community as campaign chair of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and “changed the landscape of Jewish education and Jewish life in the North Atlantic region,” said daughter Genine Macks Fidler.

The Associated’s “central address” for professional training and program development, the daughter pointed out, bears his name: the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education.

“The moment that I met him,” said Associated President Marc Terrill, “I knew that there was something
different and something extraordinary” about him. “His intellect, his compassion, his empathy, his sense of responsibility” was truly outstanding, and he was “a leader that made this world better because he was here.”

Macks also contributed founding gifts to most of the Jewish day schools in Baltimore as well as the Capital Camps and Retreat Center, Camp Shoresh and the Pearlstone Center. He was a benefactor of Johns Hopkins University, including its School of Engineering, the Lyme Disease Foundation and Johns Hopkins Medicine. Other organizations that benefited from his involvement and support are Israel’s Technion, Sinai Hospital, Israel Bonds, the Israel Tennis Centers, the Epilepsy Association, Save-a-Heart and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research, among others.

As patriarch of the family, Genine said, he was a source “for advice and support. He was the gravitational center of everything.”

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