H. Vernon Custer Sr., 90, retired director of advertising and sales promotion for the Washington Coca-Cola Bottling Co., died Oct. 22 at the Sunrise at Mount Vernon assisted living community. He had Alzheimer's disease.
He worked with Coca-Cola for 43 years, from 1937 to 1980, earning the moniker from friends and colleagues "Mr. Coca-Cola."
Harold Vernon Custer was born in Westernport, Md., and graduated from high school with the only scholarship offered by his school. But he could not use it because he had to work to help his family. He attended the old Capital Radio Institute in Washington.
"He is pretty much a self-made man," said his daughter, Gloria Meyers of Westerville, Ohio. "He took some courses at different times, and I'm sure through Coca-Cola. I know he had a lot of reference books."
A young woman Mr. Custer met at the Advertising Club of Metropolitan Washington, of which he was a member and served on its board of directors, remarked once about his knowledge and influence. "She had a master's in advertising, and she said she learned more from Daddy than any of her formal education," Meyers recalled.
Mr. Custer received the American Advertising Federation's Silver Medal award in 1975 "for outstanding accomplishments in the field of advertising and service."
He was a member of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
A former resident of Temple Hills, he was active in Prince George's County. He served in leadership positions with the chamber of commerce, including as a member of the board of directors and as chairman of the public relations committee. He also was on the Economic Development Committee and the Council of Economic Progress.
Mr. Custer was a member of the Public Relations Association and chairman of its nominating committee. He served on the County Fair Advisory Board and was a member of the board of directors for the Hall of Fame. He also served on the board of directors of the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Club and was a member of the Maryland Terrapin Club.
In 1975, he received the President's Special Award from the Chamber of Commerce, and in 1977 the Prince George's County Business/Community Service Award.
Mr. Custer, who became a master Mason in 1942, was a member of the Acacia Lodge No. 18, which later merged with Benjamin B. French Lodge No. 15 in Washington.
People who knew Mr. Custer called him "the man who makes things happen," said his daughter. "If you wanted something done, you could ask Vernon Custer to do it."
In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of 65 years, Ruth Naomi Washington Custer of Westerville; two other children, Harold Custer of Fairfax Station and Evelyn Thompson of La Plata; two brothers, E. Cecil Custer of Sterling and Elbert Custer of Fort Ashby, W.Va.; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.