Stewart W. Bainum Sr., who founded the nursing home and hospitality chains now known as HCR Manor Care and Choice Hotels International, two of the largest operations of their kinds, and who became one of Washington’s most prominent businessmen and philanthropists, died Feb. 12 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He was 94.
The cause was complications from pneumonia, said his son Stewart W. Bainum Jr.
The son of a Ford Motor Co. assembly-line worker, Mr. Bainum came of age during the Depression and hitchhiked to the Washington area in 1936 with a reported $3 in his pocket.
He found work as a plumber’s apprentice — later driving a taxi and selling watermelons on the side, his son said — before saving enough money to start his own plumbing business and then move into real estate development.
With several partners, Mr. Bainum opened his first hotel in Silver Spring, Md., in 1957. Three years later, with his brother Robert, he opened his first nursing home in Wheaton.
Mr. Bainum’s lodging venture grew into Quality Inns International, an operation that was later renamed Choice Hotels International and that today includes brands such as Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Clarion, Econo Lodge, Sleep Inn and Rodeway Inn.
The nursing home grew into Manor Care, which included 200 nursing and other health care centers across the country before it merged in 1998 with the Health Care and Retirement Corp. to become HCR Manor Care. That company now includes more than 500 nursing, rehabilitation, assisted living and other care facilities, according to its Web site.
Mr. Bainum led the lodging and nursing operations from their founding until 1987. He was succeeded as chairman and chief executive by his son Stewart, a former Maryland state legislator and prominent Democratic politician.
The elder Mr. Bainum retired in 2000 from the board of HCR Manor Care and stepped down around the same time from the board of the hotel concern, which by then had been spun off from the combined business. HCR Manor Care was purchased in 2007 by Carlyle Group, the private-equity firm, for a reported $6.3 billion.
Mr. Bainum also was for decades chairman of Realty Investment Co., which managed other family real estate investments.
In 1986, citing figures from Forbes magazine, The Washington Post ranked Mr. Bainum as one of the wealthiest residents of the Washington area, with his fortune estimated at $240 million. In 1968, he and his wife founded what is now known as the Commonweal Foundation to support the education of underprivileged youths in the Washington area and beyond.
In 1988, working through the New York-based “I Have a Dream” Foundation, Mr. Bainum promised 67 seventh-graders at Kramer Junior High School in Southeast Washington that he would finance their college educations if they graduated from high school. He remained in touch with some of those students until his death, his son said.
Stewart William Bainum was born on June 10, 1919, in Detroit. During the Depression, after his father lost his assembly-line job, the Bainums moved to Cincinnati, where his father found a position with the Works Progress Administration.
Mr. Bainum attended a Seventh-day Adventist boarding school in Mount Vernon, Ohio. He did farm work and stoked the campus furnace to make money, his son said, but nonetheless had to leave school because he could not afford the tuition. (Mr. Bainum later returned and graduated.)
After arriving in Washington, he briefly attended what is now Washington Adventist University, in Takoma Park, Md. He made his home for many years there and in Silver Spring before moving to Chevy Chase.
Survivors include his wife of 72 years, Jane Goyne Bainum of Chevy Chase; four children, Barbara Bainum and Stewart W. Bainum Jr., both of Chevy Chase, Roberta Bainum of Orlando, Fla., and Bruce Bainum of Angwin, Calif.; a brother, Robert Bainum of Fairfax City; a sister, June Hill of Bonita Springs, Fla.; 10 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Through the Commonweal Foundation, The Post reported in 2009, Mr. Bainum gave $12 million annually to support disadvantaged students. He sponsored after-school programs in Baltimore and Washington, his son said, and helped send thousands of students around the country to private boarding schools. Among the schools was the one he had attended in Ohio.