Charles Randolph Thomas, 73, steel worker, conversationalist, Ednor Gardens resident

October 20, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Charles Randolph Thomas, a retired steel worker and Ednor Gardens resident who enjoyed greeting neighbors and strangers from his favorite park bench near Memorial Stadium, died Tuesday of liver failure at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 73.

Known as a gregarious and likable man, Mr. Thomas was at his park bench at 33rd Street and Ellerslie Avenue by 9 a.m., where he greeted passers-by with a warm "Good morning" and sent grumpy commuters waiting for buses on their way with a kind word and a big smile.

If folks had time to spare, he was happy to indulge them in longer conversations. Topics ranged from the Orioles to world events or simply the weather.

"He just liked people and would talk to anyone. He never met a stranger. Sometimes he would just ask how their day was going or how they were doing. And he loved telling me about the people he had met," said his wife of 29 years, the former Esther Johnson.

Promptly at 4 p.m., Mr. Thomas returned to his Venable Avenue home for dinner and then looked forward to working for several hours in his meticulously organized basement workshop, which he called the "tool room."

"He made his own workbench and had all of his tools carefully hung on peg board. He always said everything had its place. It was a neat and orderly shop," his wife said.

He made tables, picture frames, stools and chairs for his family and friends.

Born and raised on Mount Street in West Baltimore, Mr. Thomas was a graduate of Frederick Douglass High School. He served in the Army from 1951 to 1953, and saw combat in Korea as a gunnery sergeant. He was honorably discharged in 1953 and received the Good Conduct Medal.

He went to work for the old Baltimore Transit Co. as a bus driver and worked out of the Bush Street car barn.

In 1955, he went to work at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant. Later, he was promoted to head reeler in the wire mill and extrusion department. One of his responsibilities, said family members, was lighting the blast furnaces each morning. He retired in 1985.

He enjoyed visiting city parks, especially Druid Hill Park and Herring Run Park, with his children and grandchildren.

An animal lover, he fed the squirrels who learned to tap on his windows seeking nuts. He befriended stray cats and nursed wounded animals back to health in his home.

"One time he took a pigeon with a broken wing and when it had healed, went up to the second floor, opened the window and let it fly away," said his wife.

A music lover whose tastes ranged from classical to big band, Mr. Thomas was especially fond of Dean Martin and Louis Armstrong compact discs and records. He also liked visiting area churches to listen to gospel choirs perform.

Services for Mr. Thomas will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at March Funeral Home East, 1100 E. North Ave.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Darrell Thomas of Baltimore; a daughter, Terry Williams of Baltimore; a brother, Howard Thomas of Baltimore; two sisters, Blanche Conway of Baltimore and Irma Brown of Yonkers, N.Y.; three stepsons, Earl Johnson, Douglas Johnson and Jerome Johnson, all of Baltimore; nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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