Paul Joseph Thomas, 73, salesman and expert on Md. aviation history

May 27, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Paul Joseph Thomas, a retired salesman and expert on the history of Maryland aviation, died Sunday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. He had been struck by a sport utility vehicle a day earlier while walking his dog near his Edgewood home. He was 73.

Mr. Thomas was born in Baltimore, and in early childhood became fascinated with the drama of flight. He became an accomplished airplane modeler while growing up in Rosedale.

"He attended parochial schools until leaving in the 10th grade when he enrolled at the University of Baltimore. He had a double major and earned degrees in business and law in the late 1940s," said his son, P. Michael Thomas of Havre de Grace.

He served in the Air Force during the Korean War.

He worked for a bank and then in sales for the old Wareheim Co., and retired in 1995 after many years as a salesman for C.V. Foster Equipment Co. in Baltimore.

But it was flying and the history of aviation that defined Mr. Thomas' life. He had a student pilot's license and was co-owner of a Cherokee 140 single-engine plane.

"It was the sense of freedom that he liked about flying," said Donna J. Suwall, a certified flight instructor at Martin State Airport in Middle River and friend of 30 years.

Mr. Thomas was a respected figure in Maryland aviation circles. He was a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association, a past president of its Baltimore chapter and member of the Harford County chapter.

"The Experiment Aircraft Association is for people who build and design their own airplanes or build them from predesigned kits. Paul used to arrange fly-ins for the local EAA chapter," Mrs. Suwall said.

He also was an avid supporter of EAA's Young Eagles program, which gave airplane rides to youngsters in order to generate an interest in aviation.

Mr. Thomas was devoted to collecting and preserving historical documents and records relating to flight. He was a member and publicist for the former Glenn L. Martin Museum - now the Maryland Aviation Museum - at the Martin airport.

"He devoted his life to the history of Maryland aviation. He could drive you nuts because he was so enthusiastic and trust me, he was no ordinary 73-year-old man. He was constantly lugging, looking and carrying historical material," Mrs. Suwall said.

Records, aircraft plans and photographs from the old Glenn L. Martin Co., which built aircraft on the site of the museum, are the museum's core collection.

Mr. Thomas' home was also a repository for aviation materials he had collected over the years.

"He was a pack rat, and one room with floor-to-ceiling book shelves was filled with aviation material. He had so much stuff that he had to carefully stack it in piles on the floor," she said.

Mr. Thomas dressed casually, eschewed ties, and enjoyed wearing hats with aviation logos from his vast collection.

"Paul loved aviation more than anyone I know, and he was so excited about the museum and his new job publicizing it," said Gil F. Pascal, museum chairman. "And he loved giving talks at senior centers, schools and retirement communities. He had lots of stories and he enjoyed entertaining people with them."

Mr. Thomas also enjoyed playing the organ and devising chili recipes. He was known for his pots of spicy chili and served as a judge at area chili cook-offs.

For many years, he volunteered at the Edgewood Recreation Council. He was its Saturday morning projectionist and popcorn maker for children who came to watch the movies he showed there.

He also was a member of the Mount Ararat Masonic Lodge in Bel Air and Mensa.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. today at Cvach Funeral Home, 1211 Chesaco Ave., Rosedale.

In addition to his son, survivors include a daughter, Karen S. Steirstorfer of Bel Air, and three grandchildren. His marriage to the former Margaret Chambers ended in divorce.

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