By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun
7:45 PM PDT, November 2, 2012
Rodney G. Stieff, former chairman of the board and CEO of Kirk-Stieff Co., which was the oldest silversmith firm in the country, died Tuesday of kidney cancer at the Blakehurst retirement community in Towson.
The former longtime Orchards resident was 87.
"He was a very good businessman, and he helped from the standpoint of the financial end," said a brother, Charles C. Stieff II, former executive vice president of the company, who was in charge of its wholesale division.
"And he really knew our business, especially from the engineering and manufacturing end. I was in the selling end of it," said Mr. Stieff, who lives in Cockeysville.
Born in Baltimore, the son of Gideon Numsen Stieff and Claire von Marees, Rodney Gilbert Stieff was raised on Ridgewood Road in Roland Park.
After graduating from McDonogh School in 1943, Mr. Stieff entered the Navy's V-12 program at Princeton University, where he was commissioned an ensign.
He was a 1945 graduate of Cornell University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. At Cornell, he was also been captain of the varsity lacrosse and wrestling teams.
In 1946, he joined Stieff Co. as treasurer of the Baltimore silver and pewter manufacturing company that had been founded by his grandfather, Charles C. Stieff, in 1892.
While retaining his position as treasurer, Mr. Stieff was promoted in 1953 to manager of the company's Wyman Park Drive plant in Hampden, with its iconic 1920s-era outdoor electric sign overlooking the Jones Falls Expressway.
In 1971 he became president and chairman of the company's board, and eight years later, was named chairman of the board and CEO of the Stieff Co.
"He ran the business after our father passed away, and he did a good job while there," said another brother, Gideon N. Stieff Jr. of Roland Park, who oversaw the company's retail division. "He was involved in everything."
During Mr. Stieff's tenure, he entered into a relationship in 1973 with the Smithsonian Institution to begin production of silver and pewter products bearing the Smithsonian name.
In 1979, Mr. Stieff made an historic acquisition when his company purchased Samuel Kirk & Sons, which had been founded in Baltimore in 1815.
At the time the two firms merged, newlyweds were less interested in the sterling silver flatware that had been so venerated by their parents and a staple of the company's business for years. So they turned to making additional products and developing new markets.
For years, Kirk-Stieff had produced a replica for the winner of the Preakness Stakes of the famed Woodlawn Vase, which is part of the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art and had originally been made in 1860 by Tiffany & Co.
Since 1950, the company had been producing pewter gifts and products for Colonial Williamsburg and added Historic Charleston in South Carolina, the Monticello Foundation in Virginia, and Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts.
"He handled the merger with Kirk, which had been our major competitor," said Charles C. Stieff II. "But one of the conditions of the merger was that Kirk had to be first in the name."
Mr. Stieff ascribes his brother's success in business to his "outgoing and friendly" demeanor in addition to his technical abilities.
After the merger, Mr. Stieff was CEO of the Kirk-Stieff Co., and in 1986 was named CEO of chairman of the board.
In 1990, the company, whose stock was privately held, was sold to Lenox Inc., a unit of the Louisville, Ky.-based Brown-Forman Corp. Mr. Stieff remained as a consultant and director.
He retired later that year.
Lenox Inc. announced in 1998 that its parent company was closing the company's landmark Hampden plant and consolidating operations at its Smithfield, R.I., facility.
Mr. Stieff's directorships and board memberships were numerous, including The Savings Bank of Baltimore, RES Investment Corp., Baltimore Bancorp, Maryland Casualty Co., Vermont Federal Savings & Loan Association and the Waverly Press.
He had also been a trustee of McDonogh School and St. Paul's School for Girls.
Since the 1930s, Mr. Stieff enjoyed spending summers in Weekapaug, R.I., where he was an avid sailor and raced Hereschoff-class boats. He also sailed in the Chesapeake Bay and Maine waters.
Mr. Stieff, who had lived at Blakehurst since 2003, also enjoyed playing tennis. He was a member of the Baltimore Country Club, Elkridge Club, Gibson Island Club, Annapolis Yacht Club, Weekapaug Yacht club and the Watch Hill Yacht Club.
A talented lacrosse player in his youth and college days, he retained a keen interest in the sport and was also an Orioles and Ravens fan.
Mr. Stieff was a communicant of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., where a memorial service will be held 11 a.m. Nov. 24.
In addition to his two brothers, surviving are his wife of 64 years, the former Dorothea Denison Stedman; four daughters, Dorothea Keeney Stieff of Roland Park, Laura S. Kelly of Owings Mills, Claire Dohme Stieff of Portsmouth, R.I., and Robin S. Knisley of Wakefield, R.I.; and eight grandchildren.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun