Born Oct. 6, 1918, Hackerman grew up in Baltimore’s Forest Park neighborhood. At the age of 16 his parents moved to Hanover, Pa., but he stayed behind in order to complete high school at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. He then attended Johns Hopkins University and graduated from its School of Engineering.
In 1938, at the age of 19 and just out of college, Hackerman was hired as superintendent at Whiting-Turner. He was appointed to the board of directors in 1946 and named president in 1955, only the second in the company’s history. Hackerman served with the company for 75 years until 2013.
Under his leadership, Whiting-Turner rose to become the fourth-largest domestic general builder in the United States with headquarters in Baltimore and 33 regional offices across the country. Locally, the company’s projects include several well-known Baltimore landmarks such as the National Aquarium, M&T Bank Stadium, the Joseph P. Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the new University of Baltimore Law School.
“There is no way to overstate what Willard Hackerman has meant to Whiting-Turner,” said the company’s executive vice president, Tim Regan, who has been with the firm for 34 years. “He always played down his own contributions and gave all of the credit to Mr. Whiting and to our employees.
“He is universally and unconditionally loved by everyone in the company,” added Regan. “Thanks to Mr. Hackerman’s vision and foresight, his beloved Whiting-Turner will be strong and independent for generations to come.”
Hackerman’s philanthropy was of great personal importance, extending to many cultural, educational and religious causes in Baltimore.
“His motto was God, then family, then Whiting-Turner,” said his daughter, Nancy Lois Hackerman of Pikesville.
Committed to his Jewish faith and identity, Hackerman supported the local community, serving as general co-chairman of the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund’s annual fund drive in 1975 and president of the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund from 1981 to 1983. In 1983, he received the Follow Me award by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. He also was an officer and board member of the former Beth Jacob Congregation and a member of the Board of Jewish Education.
“I’ve never known anyone like him,” said Marc B. Terrill, president of The Associated. “He was larger than life, a giant in industry, in philanthropy and in love of family and community. Everyone and everything that came in contact with Willard Hackerman was better because of him. He was principled, a man of conviction, compassion and resolve. Our community suffers a huge loss today.”
Hackerman also served on advisory boards and committees of the Greater Baltimore Alliance, the Baltimore Housing Partnership, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Mayor’s Business Advisory Council. He was known as a creative, civic problem solver, and he held a special interest in the plight of homeless women and children.
“Ours is a healthier, more educated state because of Mr. Hackerman’s generous contributions and will continue to be so for years to come,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a statement.
Hackerman’s philanthropic connection to Johns Hopkins University remained strong throughout his lifetime as well. He was head of an ad hoc trustee committee that eventually led to the opening of the first named school at Johns Hopkins, the Whiting School of Engineering, named for Willard’s mentor, G.W.C. Whiting. He also created a scholarship program to foster future generations of engineers.
“When, in 2010, we carved his name on Hackerman Hall, it was just one more recognition of the rich influence he had exerted across our School of Engineering,” said Ronald J. Daniels, Johns Hopkins University president. “On a personal level, I am deeply grateful for the friendship, advice and counsel that he extended to me from the time I arrived in Baltimore. I will sorely miss his extraordinary kindness, his large heart and visionary leadership. He represented the best of Hopkins.”
Hackerman and his wife of 72 years, Lillian Patz Hackerman, who met on the steps of the Enoch Pratt Library when they were teenagers, together endowed the Willard and Lillian Hackerman Chair in Radiation Oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and created the Hackerman-Patz Patient and Family Pavilion at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, a home away from home for patients to stay comfortably with friends or family. There is also a Hackerman-Patz House at the Anne Arundel Medical Center and at Sinai Hospital of LifeBridge Health.
Neil Meltzer, president and CEO of LifeBridge Health, remembered Hackerman as “modest and private; he didn’t like the spotlight, he gave truly out of the goodness of his heart.”
Meltzer continued: “He’s been involved in every main campaign for our organization. He saw himself as an important part of the Jewish community and saw himself as someone to rely on. He’s been an incredible force for us.”
Hackerman and his wife also purchased a 19th-century Mount Vernon Place mansion and donated it to The Walters Museum. Now called The Hackerman House, it is home to the museum’s collection of Asian art.
Willard Hackerman is survived by his wife, Lillian Patz Hackerman, son Steven Alan Mordecai, daughter Nancy Lois, five grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren, the youngest of whom was born the evening Hackerman died.