Willard Hackerman, Baltimore builder who was chief executive of Whiting-Turner, dies at 95


Willard Hackerman at the groundbreaking of the University of Maryland Medical Center's new trauma-critical care tower. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)
February 13

Willard Hackerman, a Baltimore businessman who transformed a small construction firm into a national giant with $5 billion in annual billings and who was instrumental in building Maryland landmarks such as Harborplace at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, died Feb. 10 at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 95.

The cause of death was not disclosed.

Mr. Hackerman’s firm, Whiting-Turner Contracting, completed the new University of Baltimore School of Law last year and built the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the National Aquarium and M&T Bank Stadium, among countless other projects around the city and state. He counted Target, IBM, Unilever, Yale and Stanford universities and the Cleveland Clinic among his clients. His firm also renovated the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore.

Friends said Mr. Hackerman preferred to work behind the scenes. Better known were his bright orange construction signs.

Mr. Hackerman was appointed to the Whiting-Turner board in 1946, according to a biography supplied by his family, and became the firm’s president and chief executive in 1955.

“He established an incredible corporate culture within Whiting-Turner,” said Adam Gross, a Baltimore architect with whom Mr. Hackerman often worked.

Gross recalled accompanying Mr. Hackerman through a newly completed project at the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore.

“He said to the headmistress, ‘How many women are you graduating into engineering?’ A few days later, she got a sizable check for scholarships for women in engineering. He was like that. He did deeds that nobody knew about,” Gross said.

Engineering News-Record ranked Mr. Hackerman’s business as the fourth-largest domestic general builder in the United States.

Its headquarters are in Towson, Md., and it has 33 regional offices.

Mr. Hackerman, the son of a factory manager and a homemaker, grew up in the Forest Park section of Baltimore, according to his biography. He graduated from Johns Hopkins University’s engineering school.

Mr. Hackerman headed a committee that named the engineering school for his mentor, G.W.C. Whiting.

Mr. Hackerman also “created a scholarship program to bolster future generations of engineers, dedicated himself to our mission as a trustee of the university, and served as a confidante to university leaders, including five presidents,” Johns Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels said in a statement.

A building on the university campus was dedicated in Mr. Hackerman’s name in 2010.

Mr. Hackerman’s first job after graduating from Hopkins was at Whiting-Turner, then a small firm. His first duty was the supervision of the construction of a drawbridge on the Eastern Shore.

In later years, Mr. Hackerman made Whiting-Turner a major benefactor to educational institutions, scholarship programs and medical programs in Baltimore. His philanthropy included the Hackerman House, which houses the Walters Art Museum’s Asian collection.

Mr. Hackerman was influential in political circles, as well, and was a close ally of William Donald Schaefer, the former mayor and Maryland governor.

After winning a series of contracts, Mr. Hackerman’s firm teamed with Schaefer, who was then mayor, to help transform Baltimore, building the Convention Center, Harborplace and the aquarium.

In 2004, Mr. Hackerman became embroiled in a controversy when then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. wanted to sell him state-preserved woodlands in a secret deal that would have netted Mr. Hackerman millions of dollars in tax breaks. Mr. Hackerman later said it was not his idea to keep his identity secret and that he had planned to partially develop the land.

Survivors include his wife of 72 years, the former Lillian Patz; two children; five grandchildren; and 23 great-grandchildren.

— Baltimore Sun