M. Thomas Goedeke, the retired Howard County schools superintendent who guided the system from its rural roots into a model of suburban education, died of cancer yesterday at Broadmead retirement community in Cockeysville. He was 81 and had lived in Guilford in North Baltimore.
After a 29-year career that took him to the No. 2 post in Baltimore's schools, Dr. Goedeke was named the Howard County chief of public education in 1968.
"His legacy was guiding the school system through a tremendous growing period," said former Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who served as an assistant superintendent under Dr. Goedeke. "He was able to keep up with the growth and take care of the kids."
By the time Dr. Goedeke retired in 1984, the Howard system had grown from 21 schools to 49 schools.
"It was a very exciting period," said Fred K. Schoenbrodt, who served on the Howard school board from 1962 to 1978, including 12 years as board president. "It was the beginning of Columbia, when the school system was pretty much rural. That's when we became a suburban system overnight."
Mr. Schoenbrodt said Dr. Goedeke laid the groundwork for the highly regarded school system that exists today.
"He was responsible not only for building but also for staffing and seeing that they were operating and doing the jobs that they were supposed to do," Mr. Schoenbrodt said. "After all, he was able to get the staff together to run the system. A system that doubles in size practically overnight, that takes a lot of doing."
Dr. Goedeke recognized that the Howard schools were aiming to be ranked among the best in Maryland. In a 1979 interview, he said, "All of the test scores show that we are in competition with Montgomery County as the best in the state and we compare with the best schools on the East Coast."
Barbara Rudlin, a Howard County school board member from 1975 to 1982, said Dr. Goedeke had plenty to deal with as superintendent, including integration. Rather than dragging out the process, he integrated schools all at once.
"He didn't choose to do it one grade at a time like in some counties," Ms. Rudlin said. "He decided, `If we're going to do it, we're going to do it.' "
Under Dr. Goedeke's tenure, Howard County was among the first to try "open space" schools -- or classrooms without walls. That impressed Ms. Rudlin, who knew Dr. Goedeke had a traditional educational background.
"It became very common around the country, but it was brand-new when we did it," she said.
Even though Dr. Goedeke's physical stature often intimidated people, he was remembered as a kind and sensitive man.
"He was a pleasure to work with. He was a very caring person," said Lois Hamilton, who was his executive assistant in 1976 and has served in that role for his successors. "He was a big man -- he had to be at least 6-foot-5 -- and he had a booming voice that sometimes intimidated people. But he really wasn't like that. He was really a very gentle man."
Mr. Ecker said: "He was a really big man and that might have intimidated people, but underneath he was a real caring guy. He cared about kids, he cared about their parents. He cared about individuals."
Born in Baltimore and raised in Iona Terrace in Lauraville, the former Eagle Scout was a graduate of City College. He received a teaching certificate from what now is Towson University in 1939, when he graduated second in his class. In 1941, he received a bachelor's degree from University of Maryland in College Park, a master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 1949 and his doctorate in administration from George Washington University in Washington in 1957.
He began his teaching career as a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher in a city public school at Hollins and Schroeder streets. He then taught junior high English and moved on as a counselor in the school administration's headquarters from 1947 to 1951.
In 1953, he was named vice principal at Benjamin Franklin Junior High in Curtis Bay. In 1956, he was vice principal at Roland Park Junior High. In 1958, he became the administrative assistant to the superintendent. He went on to become principal of Gywnns Falls Park Junior High School in 1960.
He became director of secondary schools in 1962, then was named director of business management. In 1967, he was named associate superintendent and ran city schools when his superior was ill.
In retirement, he was board chairman of what now is CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, and was a board member of the Lutheran Seminary, the Metropolitan Baltimore YMCA and Mount St. Joseph's High School in Irvington.
In 1941, he joined the Army Air Corps as a pilot and often crossed the Atlantic Ocean on runs between South America and Africa. He was discharged in 1946.
He married Gertrude Knell, a Domino Sugars chemist, in 1941. She survives him.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3911 Sweet Air Road, Phoenix, where he was a member. He was formerly a member of Zion Lutheran Church in downtown Baltimore.
He also is survived by two sons, M. Thomas Goedeke III of Baltimore and Eric William Goedeke of Phoenix; a brother, Frank Goedeke of Long Green; a sister, Eleanor Zimmerman of Gaithersburg; and three granddaughters.
Sun staff writers Tanika White, Jamie Smith Hopkins and Howard Libit contributed to this article.