Thomas F. McNulty IV, 59, activist for disabled who had Down syndrome

March 09, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Thomas F. McNulty IV, who was born with Down syndrome and became an activist for the disabled - defying expectations that he would never walk or talk - died Wednesday at Easton Memorial Hospital after a long illness. He was 59 and lived for more than 10 years at the Benedictine School for Exceptional Children in Ridgley.

Instead of being institutionalized, he traveled abroad and enjoyed picking up foreign words and phrases, said J. Joseph Hart, a cousin who is director of spiritual support services at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

With his father, Thomas F. McNulty III - who owned radio station WWIN and was a state delegate and political activist - Mr. McNulty traveled to Civitan International events.

There, he'd meet mayors and governors, sell them fund-raising fruitcakes and ask what they planned to do for retarded citizens, said Mr. Hart, recalling his cousin with laughter and tears.

When Mr. McNulty was born in 1942, more than one doctor told his father and mother, Mary, that he should be placed in an institution and forgotten. Instead, the McNultys took their only son on the road, and joined forces with other parents to establish the Maryland Society for Mentally Retarded Children, now The Arc of Baltimore, and the St. Francis School for Special Education.

Civitan International clubs adopted the cause as their own. When the elder Mr. McNulty was awarded the organization's highest award, the International Honor Key, his son took the microphone to tell him, "If it hadn't been for me, you wouldn't be getting this," according to a 1985 article in The Evening Sun.

"He loved the crowd," Mr. Hart said, noting that Mr. McNulty became a regular spokesman at Civitan events. "He felt ... he had overcome being retarded and saw himself as an advocate for the rights of the mentally and physically challenged."

Speaking of Mr. McNulty, his parents and others, Mr. Hart said, "They fought these prejudices ... those who said, `We don't want these children around.'"

As a boy, Mr. McNulty lived with his parents in Northwood and attended Public School No. 51 in Waverly, where he received help from the principal, a family friend. A neighbor helped teach him to walk, up and down their street, discovering that a horizontal broomstick helped him balance.

The family later lived in Homeland, from the 1950s to the early 1980s, and then moved to Lutherville.

Mr. McNulty was a regular at the old Haussner's Restaurant. His birthday, in August, was celebrated for many years at the old Commander hotel in Ocean City, where he told everyone he met, "Come on in," Mr. Hart said. "He loved company. He was such an extrovert.

Stanislav Rembski, a Polish immigrant to Baltimore who became an internationally known portraitist, painted Mr. McNulty in pastels in 1989, Mr. Hart recalled. "He asked to paint him, and he said, `I want to capture an angel in a man's body.'"

Mr. McNulty was an angel to one young swimmer: In 1968 at a YMCA pool, he dived several times for a boy who had sunk to the bottom, pulling him each time a little closer to the shallow end, before others came to the rescue, according to The Evening Sun article.

"God sent this angel into our family," Mr. Hart said, but "he was a pistol, too. He wasn't a saint."

He enjoyed woodworking, playing pool and Maryland seafood, he said.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered yesterday at St. Pius X Church in Rodgers Forge.

In addition to Mr. Hart, he is survived by five cousins.

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