George R. Frank

( o / August 8, 2009)

George R. Frank, a Baltimore businessman, packaging executive and philanthropist, died Friday from congestive heart failure at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson.

He was 88.

"George was serious, had his principles, knew what he wanted and worked very hard. And he let everyone know that," said Howard A. Kelly, who had been Mr. Frank's vice president of sales.

"He was close to everyone, and even though he was the boss, we knew what to do to make the company move. He was just a great entrepreneur," said Mr. Kelly who is retired and lives in Rising Sun.

The son of George A. "Buck" Frank Jr., who had worked in the metal can industry and Annella Nicoletti Frank, a homemaker, George Ralph Frank was born in East Rutherford, N.J., in 1925.

He spent his early years in East Rutherford and Chicago, when his father worked for Continental Can Co., and later in Philadelphia, when he was offered a job in 1939 by Crown Cork and Seal Co. as supervisor of lithography.

In 1941, the family moved to Pinehurst Road in Rodgers Forge, when the elder Mr. Frank was named international director of lithography at the company's Baltimore headquarters. In 1945, with the help of several partners, he established the Sheet Metal Coating and Litho Co. on Bayard Street, which later moved to the 1300 block of W. Hamburg St.

Mr. Frank attended Calvert Hall College High School, and in 1943 withdrew and enlisted in the Navy. He served as a medic and pharmacist's mate in the Pacific Theater until he was discharged in 1946.

He returned to Baltimore, earned his General Education Development certificate, and worked as a pressman for SMCL while attending what is now Loyola University of Maryland at night, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1950.

By the late 1960s, he took over as president of the business. He expanded the company when he built a second plant in Birmingham, Ala., in 1976, and it became the largest independent metal decorator in the nation.

"I joined the company as a salesman in 1973 even though I was an engineer by trade," recalled Mr. Kelly. "George was a great person to work for. We'd have our little debates over business and came to understand each other real well."

Mr. Frank acquired a small can making operation in 1978, which he named GRAFCO, that produced cans for such companies as Baltimore Spice, manufacturers of Old Bay, and Band Aid containers for Johnson & Johnson at a plant in Hanover, Md. However, the trend for metal products was declining, and alternative materials such as composite cans and plastics were coming along, said his son Thomas C. Frank, of Glen Arm.

"George saw how the business was changing and he held onto steel metal as long as he could," said Mr. Kelly. "GRAFCO was making plastic bottles and he saw the future of tin cans and litho. He could see the change and changed with it."

Mr. Frank and brothers Timothy L. Frank of Reisterstown and George A. Frank of Severna Park took over operation of the company.

"He had the vision to sell SMCL to the Ball Corp. in 1986, and founded Frank Industries. The GRAFCO division was not part of the sale to Ball Corp.," said Thomas C. Frank.

The brothers transitioned GRAFCO's metal products to PET Plastic in 1988. The name changed to GRAFCO PET Packaging Technologies, with their father as chairman of the board of Frank Industries.

"He was passionate about business and it was contagious. He cared about every aspect of it, from his customers and suppliers to his employees," said Timothy L. Frank, who is now president of Frank Industries.

The company had manufacturing operations in addition to the Hanover plant, in Georgia, Iowa and New York, employing more than 400 at its peak. In 2006, the company was sold to Captive Plastics, with Frank Industries becoming a private investment company.

"He was well-respected throughout the industry," said Mr. Kelly, who said Mr. Frank enjoyed spending weeks in the field with him personally calling on customers.

"He was very much hands-on and directed us," he said. "As a person, he was so charismatic and when he walked into a room, you knew he was there. George was tall, good looking and always impeccably dressed."