Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Herbert E. Wilgis Jr., foreign service officer who helped shape history

Herbert E. Wilgis Jr.
Herbert E. Wilgis Jr.

WILMINGTON — Herbert E. Wilgis Jr. passed away peacefully Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, at the home he shared with his wife Jane in Wilmington, N.C.

Born April 30, 1935, in Baltimore, Md., to Dr. Herbert and Margaret Wilgis, he graduated from McDonogh School in 1953 and Princeton University in 1957.

In 1958, he entered the U.S. Foreign Service, where he was privileged to both witness and help shape history as a foreign service officer serving in Washington, D.C., Barcelona, Honduras, Budapest, Bonn and Warsaw. As deputy chief of Mission in Hungary, he ensured the return by the U.S. of the Holy Crown of St. Stephen to its Hungarian homeland in 1978, ending a long dispute between the countries that typified the enmities of the Cold War. As Charge d’Affaires in Poland, he led the American Embassy during the Polish government’s imposition of martial law in 1981. He supported Lech Walesa and the Solidarity resistance movement, and welcomed Pope John Paul II upon his historic return to Poland in 1983.

After retiring from the Foreign Service in 1986, he returned to his roots in Baltimore and transitioned from diplomat to entrepreneur as he became president of Penniman & Browne, an engineering and environmental testing firm in Baltimore.

Mr. Wilgis was an active volunteer in his community. He served as president of the Board of Trustees of McDonogh School, president of the Independent Laboratory Institute and was on several other boards, including the Print & Drawing Society of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

He greatly enjoyed his retirement in Rehoboth Beach, Del., where he relished his role as a grandfather and hosted many crab feasts with his family. He moved with his wife to Wilmington in 2015 where they enjoyed more time with their granddaughter.

He is survived by his beloved wife of 59 years, Jane VandeGrift Wilgis; brother, Edward Ford Shaw Wilgis, M.D., (Betsy) of Baltimore; sister, Margaret Jeffery Wilgis, of Houston, Texas; three sons, Jeffery Breen Wilgis (Beth) of Sandwich, Mass., Herbert E. Wilgis III (Linda) of Seattle, Wash., and Edward Shaw Wilgis (Melissa) of Wilmington, N.C.; and four grandchildren, Nick, Elijah, Christian and Frances Jane.

A funeral Mass was held Saturday, Feb. 10, at  Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in the Lady Chapel, Baltimore.

In lieu of flowers, the family gratefully suggests that contributions be made to the Wilgis Family Scholarship at McDonogh School.

Share online condolences with the family at

Related Articles