Thomas D. Bolita, 72, docent at pagoda

October 07, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Thomas D. Bolita, the friendly face at the top of the Patterson Park Pagoda who never tired of explaining to visitors its history and that of the surrounding neighborhood, died of heart failure Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Butchers Hill resident was 72.

Mr. Bolita, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., served in the Army during the Korean War and later attended George Washington University.

The former Beltsville and Columbia resident worked for 38 years as a National Security Agency analyst at Fort Meade and retired in 1991.

Mr. Bolita and his wife of 21 years, Susan Noonan, moved to Butchers Hill in 1988, settling into a three-story renovated rowhouse in the 2000 block of E. Pratt St., which they later filled with Victorian-era furnishings.

"We both really loved Butchers Hill," said Ms. Noonan, who served as president of the Butchers Hill Neighborhood Association. "He was a member of Citizens on Patrol and initiated a neighborhood book club. He was, of course, a member of the Butchers Hill Neighborhood Association and Friends of Patterson Park."

Mr. Bolita also volunteered at Commodore John Rodgers Elementary School in East Baltimore. An avid sailor and potter, he taught sailing at the Downtown Sailing Center and volunteered at Baltimore Clayworks Inc. in Mount Washington.

"He had a wide diversity of interests," Ms. Noonan said.

Not much happened in the East Baltimore neighborhood that escaped Mr. Bolita's attention. A colorful character who enjoyed collecting and wearing hats, he was seldom without his black Greek fisherman's cap.

"He was certainly a pioneer in Butchers Hill and always seemed to be everywhere. He was ubiquitous and seemed to attend every event in East Baltimore," said Barry S. Glassman, also a former president of the neighborhood association.

"He brought cheerfulness, common sense and always kept things in perspective. On our Web site, we call Butchers Hill `Baltimore's Friendliest Neighborhood,' and Tom certainly contributed so much to that," he said.

"He was just the happiest person and was always very welcoming to everyone. He was extremely personable. ... He had a love for life that was contagious," said Mary Sloan Roby, a Butchers Hill resident and longtime friend.

Perhaps one of the most important projects that Mr. Bolita participated in was the restoration of the Patterson Park Pagoda, the 60-foot tower built in 1891 to commemorate the War of 1812.

The old tower, which had suffered from years of neglect, was restored with accurately cut replacement stained-glass windows and gleaming ironwork and was painted in period colors. It was opened to the public last year.

Its $500,000 restoration was carried out by Baltimore's Department of Recreation and Parks and the Friends of Patterson Park, of which Mr. Bolita was a member.

Every third Sunday of the month for three hours, Mr. Bolita volunteered as a docent and was stationed on the fourth deck at the top of the pagoda. From his airy perch, he pointed out interesting buildings and explained to visitors the significance of the 155-acre site, which had played an important role in the War of 1812 and Civil War.

"Did he ever know his history. I'd be at the bottom of the pagoda when the visitors came down, and I hear them say, `Boy, that guy really knows his stuff,'" said Ms. Noonan, also a volunteer docent.

"When the pagoda opened a year ago, Tom was the one who promoted the idea of staffing it. With his interpretation of history and nature, he became our model docent. He was infectious. You always learned so much listening to him," said Nancy P. Supik, community organizer for the Friends of Patterson Park.

"He'd lend his binoculars so visitors could get a better view. He enjoyed talking to people, and when they came down, they always were smiling. And you knew they had met and talked to Tom," she said.

In memory of Mr. Bolita, a floral arrangement was placed on the pagoda's deck Saturday at the spot where he gave his off-the-cuff talks, Ms. Supik said.

His marriage to the former Nora Byerly ended in divorce.

Mr. Bolita donated his body to the Maryland Anatomy Board. A celebration of his life will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, 1415 Key Highway.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Bolita is survived by two sons, Christopher Bolita of Laurel and Daniel Bolita of Waldoboro, Maine; a daughter, Robin Daugherty of Laurel; two stepsons, Laurence Noonan of Potomac Falls, Va., and Jack Noonan of Coconut Grove, Fla.; three stepdaughters, Denise Slavin of Pembroke Pines, Fla., Rosaline Noonan of New York City and Maureen Hartley of Richmond, Va.; a brother, James Bolita of Omaha, Neb.; and eight grandchildren.

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