George C. Thomas, a retired telephone lineman known for his ability to start the phones ringing after natural disaster struck, died of an apparent heart attack Thursday while driving in Manassas, Va. He was 71.
A resident of Parkville and past commander of its American Legion post, Mr. Thomas worked 42 years for what was then the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. -- where he was widely known as Big George. He retired as line supervisor in 1989.
Born on Northeast Baltimore's Darley Avenue, he attended Polytechnic Institute before leaving school in 1945 to join the Marines.
He joined the telephone company in 1947, and was assigned to the Elgin Avenue repair yard in West Baltimore. But he was soon in demand for emergency repairs to fallen lines from Garrett County to Ocean City.
"He knew everything there was to know about line work," said George W. Batzer of Fallston, who worked alongside him for nearly four decades. "He trained many of the men who went on to be advanced in the telephone company."
Mr. Thomas led 15-member emergency crews in tackling the big jobs -- and not necessarily local ones. He traveled to New England in the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel in October 1954, and to Ocean City in March 1962 when a prolonged storm lashed the coast and toppled buildings.
He worked virtually every Baltimore snowstorm, notably the wet and heavy storm of March 19, 1958, that took down miles of utility lines and paralyzed the city for two days.
"He was from the old school. The more tired he grew, the harder he worked," said Mr. Batzer.
In 1983, Mr. Thomas worked 76 hours without a break at St. Paul and Fayette streets when an office building construction site pile driver accidentally severed telephone lines. Many downtown businesses were out of phone service for five days.
During a 1968 phone strike in New York, he worked in Baltimore throughout the week and drove to Manhattan on the weekends to help out until the work stoppage ended.
"He jumped in to do the jobs that others wouldn't or couldn't do," said James W. Bacastow, another retired co-worker.
He was a 42-year member of the Parkville American Legion post, where he served as commander from 1975 to 1977. He also worked more than 1,000 hours as a volunteer at the Fort Howard Veterans Administration Hospital.
Mr. Thomas also was a 25-year volunteer at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School. In addition, he managed and coached the Immaculate Heart of Mary baseball team in Baynesville and served as the church's athletic association director.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9 a.m. Tuesday at St. Isaac Jogues Roman Catholic Church, 9215 Old Harford Road, Parkville.
Surviving are his wife of half a century, the former Margaret O'Neill; two sons, John J. Thomas of Forest Hill and Neil D. Thomas of White Hall; two daughters, Julie A. Rakowski and Lynn M. Thomas, both of Parkville; and nine grandchildren.