Thomas X. Dinisio Sr., whose Highlandtown produce and flower stand was a neighborhood fixture for 40 years, died Wednesday of heart failure at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 78.
Mr. Dinisio opened Tom's Produce in 1953 with two boxes of fruit he bought and placed in a stand he had added to his house at Highland Avenue and Monument Street.
He quickly earned a reputation for his fine produce, and soon quit his job as a carpenter to devote his full time to operating the stand with his wife, Rita.
Tom's Produce became a hangout for neighbors, senior citizens, idlers, police officers, firefighters and politicians who dropped by for a cup of coffee and a chat with its amiable proprietor.
"He worked seven days a week and often 12 or more hours a day," said a son, Thomas X. Dinisio Jr. of Middle River. "He wouldn't close on Sundays until he sold his last newspaper."
He tried retirement once -- for 24 hours. He closed the stand and attended a family party celebrating his many years of hard work.
"The next day he reopened the stand -- he said he couldn't stand being retired," said a daughter, Rita Woods of Rosedale, where Mr. Dinisio had lived since 1986.
The stand offered such seasonal specialties as pumpkins and balsam Christmas trees. He donated trees to any East Baltimore church that needed one.
He was one of the last producers of Christmas moss in Baltimore. The moss, fine sawdust, is dyed green and used for grass on Christmas garden platforms.
"He had customers from all over Maryland who would come in and buy a bag of it. The Maryland Historical Society recently called asking if he was going to make any this year," said another son, Joseph Dinisio of Parkville.
While his family lived in an apartment upstairs, Mr. Dinisio preferred the surroundings of his stand. On warm summer nights he could be found stretched out on a rollaway bed on the corner to guard his stand.
Known as "Mr. Tom," his daily wardrobe never varied from khaki pants, white sleeveless undershirt and white apron.
He once sponsored eight soccer teams. He often donated oranges for participants in the March of Dimes walk, which used to pass his stand, and, occasionally, he gave bicycles to needy children.
"He was the kind of guy who took in $2 and gave away three," said City Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., a 1st District Democrat. "He just couldn't say no and was greatly respected by everyone who knew him."
The son of poor Italian immigrant parents -- his father was a tailor -- Mr. Dinisio was raised near Belair Market and "kicked out of every Catholic school in Baltimore," said Thomas Dinisio Jr.
During World War II, he served as an Army cook in the Pacific.
He and Rita Burakiewicz were married in 1951. She died in 1989.
In addition to his sons and daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Barbara Greenwell of Middle River; a brother, Albert Dinisio of Canton; and five grandchildren.
Services were held Saturday.
Pub Date: 9/09/96