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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 21, 2005 | Vol. 34 No. 23
Obituary: 'Zig' Gregory, Self-Ordained 'Lord of the Files,' Dies at 85

In the Homewood Student Financial Services Office where Zig Gregory worked, he was known as "Mr. G." or "Lord of the Files," a name he gave himself when he joined the office as a file clerk in 1999 — at the age of 80.

"When Joan Ostrowski [of Homewood Human Resources] called and asked if I would hire an 80-year-old man, I told her I wouldn't discriminate as long as he could spell," said Ellen Frishberg, director of the office. "Little did I know she meant her dad — who not only spelled but re-engineered and organized our files, and drew schematics and diagrams so that we never lost another piece of paper in the six years he dutifully came to work."

Gregory died Feb. 12 at Manor Care Rehabilitation Center after several months' illness during which he kept saying he had to get better because he had to go back to work. He was 85.

Four days a week — with the exception of the two extended cruises that he and his wife, Claire, took every year — Gregory was there every day, working those files and telling his colleagues stories. "The staff loved his stories, his gentle ways, his work ethic and his jokes," Frishberg said. "We miss him already."

The sign that he put in his cubicle — "Lord of the Files (with no apologies to William Golding)" — will remain, she said.

Charles Ziegler Gregory Sr., who came to Johns Hopkins many years into his retirement, also loved working at the university for reasons that went beyond his job: Not only did his daughter work here, but he was a dedicated alumnus.

"To anyone who would listen, he would say that the things he was proudest of were his daughter — that would be me — and his Hopkins diploma," Ostrowski said.

Born July 28, 1919, in Baltimore, Gregory graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and in 1938 entered Johns Hopkins to study mechanical engineering. He signed up for ROTC as an elective, and as an extracurricular activity, he decided to join the band — but it met on Monday afternoons, the same time as his ROTC drill.

In the memoirs he began writing in 2001 for his grandchildren, Gregory recalled his fateful meeting with band director Conrad Gebelein, who told the erstwhile bugle player that he would start him on the mellophone. "He said that if I was in ROTC, and a member of the band, then rehearsals counted as 'drill,' " Gregory wrote. "So, I became an instant musician."

In his second year, Gregory was named student director of the band. Because it was difficult to recruit musicians in a small school, he came up with the idea of asking the registrar for a list of incoming students who reported musical experience on their applications. He printed a welcome letter on the reverse of a campus map, circled the auditions spot, sent it out to incoming students and ended up with not only a proper mix of instruments but a waiting list as well. The band played for all ROTC exhibitions, as well as home lacrosse and football games. "The school did have a band for many years thereafter," he wrote to his grandchildren. "This was one of the things I did that made me feel good."

Gregory graduated from the School of Engineering in 1942, a diploma in one hand and orders to go to war in the other. Trained at Aberdeen Proving Grounds as a bomb disposal officer, he served in Great Britain, France and the United States, rising to the rank of major.

In 1945, finished with his tour of duty and not quite sure what he wanted to do for a career, Gregory was offered a newly created position at Hochschild, Kohn & Co., a department store in downtown Baltimore, to supervise a building program that would include air conditioning parts of the store, installing 10 escalators, replacing six elevators and building two branch stores. The job he thought would last a couple of years turned into one that engaged him fully for 35.

Between his retirement in 1980 and his arrival at Johns Hopkins in 1999, he took and retired from several part-time jobs and also worked with his son-in-law's family, the Ostrowskis, in the sausage-making business.

Gregory is survived by his wife, the former Claire Foster, whom he first met in grade school when they both attended Daily Vacation Bible School at Reformation Church; his daughter Joan Ostrowski, a senior employment specialist in Homewood Human Resources; a son, Charles Z. Gregory Jr.; six grandchildren; and four great grandchildren. His late grandson Christopher Ostrowski also worked at Johns Hopkins.

A funeral and interment took place on Thursday.


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