Catholic Businessman, Philanthropist Jim Matthews Dies

James J. Matthews, the founder of the West End Dinner Theatre in Alexandria and a longtime member of St. Agnes Parish in Arlington, died March 20 at a Florida hospital. He never recovered from injuries he suffered in a Feb. 28 automobile accident. A funeral Mass is scheduled for Friday, March 27, at 10 a.m. at St. Agnes Church. Former Arlington Bishop Thomas J. Welsh is scheduled to be the celebrant. Father James R. Gould, pastor, will be the homilist. A wake service will be held Thursday evening at Murphy Funeral Home in Arlington. Matthews’ friend and fellow Arlington resident, James P. Keenan, also was killed in the Feb. 28 accident. Keenan and Matthews were vacationing with their wives in Vero Beach at the time of the tragedy. A funeral Mass was offered for Keenan on March 7 at St. Agnes Church. A native of Akron, Ohio, Matthews served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. He had a distinguished military record, flying numerous combat missions over Germany. He also was a Knight of Malta and a member of the Brent Society. Matthews started as manager of the Hecht Company luncheonette at 7th and F. Streets in Washington in 1945. He then opened the first Tops Drive Inn restaurant in 1953 and had a thriving chain of 17 stores when it merged with Gino’s Inc. in 1967. He was one of the early Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisers, working closely with Colonel Harland Sanders. He served on the board of Kentucky Fried Chicken Corporation after Colonel Sanders retired. Matthews served as president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington in 1965 and received the coveted "Restuaranteur of The Year" award in 1968. He remained active on the board of Gino’s until the sale of the company to Marriott in 1982. He then established the West End Dinner Theatre in 1982 and, with the help of his daughter Joan, has made it one of the area’s premier dinner theaters. Matthews served on the advisory board at both the Notre Dame Catechetical Institute and the Catholic Distance University. He received an honorary doctorate of laws degree from NDI in 1986, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award from the Catholic Distance University (CDU) in 1989 and the Brent Award in 1994. As a Knight of Malta, he accompanied the association to several Lourdes pilgrimages. He was a generous benefactor to many worthwhile Catholic causes. In addition to helping establish and fund the Notre Dame Graduate School of Theology (formerly the Notre Dame Pontifical Catechetical Institute), he donated the use of the West End Dinner Theatre to help raise funds for another of his "adopted" institutions, the Catholic Distance University (formerly the Catholic Home Study Institute) in Hamilton. The annual event, featuring former Arlington Bishop Thomas J. Welsh as master of ceremonies, provided a festive atmosphere for hundreds of diocesan Catholics. Matthews quietly offered the hospitality of his family home near Warrenton to several diocesan priests for a weekly respite from their hectic schedules. One result of these weekly meetings was the 1992 founding of CREDO, an international group of Catholic priests who are concerned about the English translation of the Sacramentary. An avid reader and supporter of Catholic periodicals, Matthews served for several years on the HERALD’s board of directors. It was not uncommon for him to call the office to discuss a particular story he read in the HERALD or in another Catholic publication. He was particularly fond of syndicated Catholic columnists Joseph Sobran, Patrick Buchannan, and E. Michael Jones. "To those who knew Jim Matthews, his faith in God, his love for the Church and his devotion to his family are legendary," said HERALD founding editor Charles W. Carruth. "As a member of the Arlington Catholic HERALD’s board of directors, Jim Matthews gave his support and loyalty to the paper for several years," said Carruth. "I treasured, and will always be grateful for, his friendship to me personally. "Our hearts go out to his wife, Jane, and his family for their great loss," he said. Copyright ?1998 Arlington Catholic Herald, Inc. All rights reserved.

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