Charles J. Atas, a longtime real estate attorney and Anne Arundel County residential builder and developer, died of pancreatic cancer May 15 at his Odenton home. He was 91.
Charles Jerome Atas was the son of Harris Alfred Atas, a Russian immigrant tailor, and Ida Atas, who was of Russian descent. He was born in Passaic, New Jersey, and moved with his family to Odenton, where his parents established Duke’s Cafe near Fort Meade in 1934, shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
“He was originally named Junior Haskell Atas. He did not like his given name and changed his first name to Charles since his mother worked as a bookkeeper for the famous bodybuilder Charles Atlas,” according to a biographical profile submitted by his family. “He chose his middle name from his brother Herbert Jerome because he liked his brother’s middle name. That is when he became Charles Jerome Atas and was known to friends and family as Charlie or Chuck.”
He spent most of his childhood working in his parents’ tavern, beginning at age 10, when he served beer and food after school. During World War II, he and his brother also sold sandwiches at the Odenton station to soldiers from nearby Fort Meade who were waiting for Pennsylvania Railroad passenger trains that would transport them to their deployment.
“Charles Atas, now an Annapolis real estate agent, got his start selling Cokes from his mother’s tavern,” The Baltimore Sun reported in a 2003 article. “He charged 10 cents and kept a nickel of that.”
“After two months, everyone saw these two little boys making money,” Mr. Atas told the newspaper. “Then there wasn’t a thing you couldn’t buy.”
The tavern closed in 1960 and later became The Hideaway restaurant, family members said.
Mr. Atas would hitchhike to Glen Burnie High School, as nearby Millersville High School was an agricultural school. An outstanding athlete, he played forward on the lacrosse team and was an accomplished gymnast.
It was his mother who persuaded him to enlist in the Army in 1946 to take advantage of the GI Bill.
“When he enlisted, he was only 16 at the time, too young to enlist, however, at his mother’s insistence, he fibbed about his age,” according to the biographical profile. Despite his age, after boot camp, Charles was enrolled in leadership school and was promoted to private, first class, and was put in charge of 50 men, all older than he was.”
During his military days, Mr. Atas also boxed and was a lifeguard, and after being discharged in 1947, he enrolled at the University of Maryland, College Park. There, he served as a sergeant in the ROTC Air Force Reserve and was later promoted to lieutenant colonel, family members said.
While in college, he became a proficient competitive trampolinist and competed in Philadelphia and at the NCAA Regionals in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1951 and law degree in 1955 from the University of Maryland School of Law, and was sixth out of 200 to pass the Maryland bar exam.
While he was a law student, Mr. Atas met and fell in love with the former Gilda Grey Gay, a registered nurse, whom he married in 1955.
After completing law school, Mr. Atas sold encyclopedias and then began working for a title company by day while establishing his law practice.
In the late 1950s, Mr. Atas and his wife decided to build their first home and, as a result of the experience, sold and rented houses. Subsequently, they became land developers and built homes that they sold.
The couple eventually established Village Realty in Odenton with Mrs. Atas overseeing the operation of the real estate wing of the business.
Their daughter Terry Lee Atas of Millersville became a licensed Realtor, and was a partner for more than 25 years with her father in the development and construction of homes in Anne Arundel County. She is also the administrator of ODA Co. LLC, their management company.
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Mr. Atas was the owner for many years of the Sunrise Beaches in Arden-on-the-Severn until it was sold to the local civic association.
He had not retired and was still working at his death, family members said.
“Charlie had always been a very industrious man,” said Maureen E. Mershon, owner of Holiday Point Marina in Edgewater, who has known the couple since the early 1960s. “He was very kind man and a really funny guy who had a great sense of humor. Charlie and Gilda were very generous and just fun to be around.”
Mr. Atas was a music lover and an avid reader who was “never seen without a book in his hand, or close by, or in his suitcase,” family members said.
He and his wife were also world travelers and took trips with family and friends. They visited Russia, South America, Mexico, Scotland, Ireland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland, Germany, the Caribbean Islands and many other places.
Plans for a celebration-of-life gathering are incomplete.
In addition to his wife of 67 years and daughter, Mr. Atas is survived by another daughter, Dr. Jenny Gay Atas of Detroit, and three grandchildren.