John V. Jamison III, business and civic leader, dies

July 06, 1997


Staff Writer

John Vincent Jamison III, who built doors on the job and opened them off it, died over the weekend after a long illness. He was 86.

Jamison, one of the giants of Hagerstown, took over his grandfather's cold storage door company and built it into a an international business. At the same time, he served dozens of community and civic organizations and raised three daughters.

No matter how many groups he touched, though, family and friends said he always returned to his main love: the Jamison Door Co.


"He loved the Jamison Door Co.," said D. Tolly West, who served as the company's president from 1978 to 1982. "He loved the people who worked there. He always made sure they had access to him."

And they loved him, West said. Jamison guided the company through good times and bad but never lost sight of his employees, he said. West said Jamison would frequently loan money to workers who were in a bind and then let them pay it back from their paychecks.

Page Wroth Jamison, his wife of 60 years, said his workers appreciated his sense of fairness and commitment to the company.

"His men adored him. That really says it. The men in the factory just loved him," she said. "He was stern but so fair and so good."

Although slowed by a stroke about eight years ago, Jamison said her husband remained active in the company. He still worked out of his office until the last couple of years.

"It really broke his heart when he had to leave," she said.

Long career

Jamison's grandfather founded the business, then the Jamison Cold Storage Door Co., in 1906 manufacturing insulated doors for commercial refrigerators.

Fresh from Yale University, Jamison joined the company in 1933, but did not intend to stay forever. He wanted to get a graduate degree from Harvard University.

But his father - "The Boss," as Jamison called him - took his son on a tour of the plant.

"And he said, `There is your Harvard Business School,'" his wife said. "That ended that."

There would be no plush office for the Ivy Leaguer. Jamison started as the lowest-paid laborer in the shop - 25 cents an hour.

"My father didn't believe in paying a lot of money if they couldn't earn it," Jamison said last December, when city officials renamed the street outside the plant J.V. Jamison Drive. "And I couldn't earn it."

Colleagues said the three years he spent in the factory prepared him to lead the company.

"He took great pride in that fact," West said. "He did start at the bottom."

John A. Latimer, the company's current president, said he was always in touch with his employees.

"He was able to identify with virtually every employee in the company," he said. "That's why they respected him so much."

And stayed. Throughout its history, the Jamison Door Co. developed a reputation as a great place to work, West said. The company's 30-year club grew large, he said.

"And they were related," West said. "Fathers brought their sons. Uncles brought their nephews. You'd go to a funeral and you would have no idea so many people were related."

Giving back

Page Jamison said her husband was not content as merely a business success. Shortly after graduating from Yale, she said he helped organize a charity called Santa Claus Inc., which distributed Christmas gifts to poor children.

That began a lifetime of philanthropic activities that included memberships on boards ranging from the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts to the Washington County Hospital.

"It was the start of helping other people," Mrs. Jamison said.

One of his favorites, she said, was the board of the Maryland School for the Deaf. A slight hearing loss he suffered while playing water polo gave him a natural affinity for the deaf, she said.

Jamison also served on several professional boards and associations.

On a personal level, friends said Jamison brightened rooms he entered.

"He had a beaming face," said William P. Young, 57, who knew Jamison since he was 8. "He always greeted people with a wonderful smile. He had a warm and generous heart, very accepting."

Page Jamison said she met her husband when they were young children growing up across the street from each other on Prospect Street.

A skilled athlete in his younger years - he was captain of the Yale water polo team - Jamison said her husband played sports well into his 70s.

Despite having the first two of three children, Jamison served in World War II, first as an aide to a future Maryland governor and later as a Navy officer in the Pacific campaign. He was one of the first Americans to enter Nagasaki after the atomic bomb was dropped.

"I think he was certainly one of the good, old names of Hagerstown, and he certainly lived up to all the expectations," said Richard G. Wantz, who served with Jamison on the art museum board.

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