Theodore Noble Geppert, 62, agent in Secret Service under 5 presidents

September 03, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Theodore Noble Geppert, a former Secret Service agent who became a longtime advocate for adults with mental retardation, died of lymphoma Monday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

The Ellicott City resident was 62.

Born and raised in Clearfield, Pa., Mr. Geppert moved to Washington after graduating from high school and became a District of Columbia and White House police officer before joining the Secret Service in 1966.

Mr. Geppert, who earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from American University in 1973, was a member of the presidential security detail.

"He served every president from Lyndon B. Johnson to Ronald Reagan," said a daughter, Catherine A. Gooch of Ithaca, N.Y. "I think his favorite was President Reagan, who he said was always very friendly to all of the agents."

After retiring from the Secret Service in 1984, Mr. Geppert was a private investigator until 2000.

The lives of Mr. Geppert and family members were profoundly changed during the 1960s when his oldest daughter, Denise, received a diagnosis of encephalitis as a 6-year-old and emerged from a coma that left her deaf and mentally retarded.

From that tragedy came nearly four decades of activism in which Mr. Geppert helped get services and support for the mentally retarded and their families.

"The doctors told my parents that they should consider placing Denise in an institution. My father responded by saying, `She's not going to an institution; she's going to church next Sunday,' " said Mrs. Gooch, who manages the stroke rehabilitation program at Ithaca College.

"There were no support groups in those days, and he had to fight for services and schooling. These [the retarded] were the forgotten people, and he wanted to help them get the same services that Denise deserved," she said. "He wanted something special just for them."

Mr. Geppert steeped himself in knowledge about retardation, and he and his wife learned sign language so that they could communicate with the deaf.

"His goal was to help make them contributing and involved members of the community," Mrs. Gooch said.

For many years, Mr. Geppert was an active board member of the Association of Retarded Citizens of Howard County, now The Arc of Howard County, and was on the board of the Center for Handicapped Children - also known as CHI Centers Inc. - in Silver Spring.

In the late 1990s, Mr. Geppert founded POPPS - Power of Positive Parents - as an advocacy group for parents caring for adult children with retardation.

"I have a retarded son, and unless you're in this situation, you have no idea what we go through as parents. And you can't help but worry about what is going to happen, because we're getting older," said Jack Kaulfuss of Chi Centers.

"POPPS is a group that gets together once a month, and we discuss our situations, bring our concerns, exchange information and encourage one another," Mr. Kaulfuss said. "And we try and see what improvements we can make for services."

Mr. Geppert brought state legislators to the group's meetings, Mr. Kaulfuss said. "He wanted them to know that we still have a long way to go."

Mr. Kaulfuss described Mr. Geppert as a "very compassionate and gentle man" who made it a habit to visit group homes to check on residents. His daughter Denise lives in a group home in Columbia.

"He really was the ultimate advocate for services and programs. He realized that the developmentally disabled required services that lasted not just temporarily but for a lifetime," said Alan C. Lovell, chief executive officer of CHI Centers Inc.

Mr. Geppert enjoyed bass fishing and hunting. He also played basketball in several leagues. He was a member of the Association of Former Agents of the United States Secret Service and the Knights of Columbus.

He was a parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, 1305 Route 216 in Fulton, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today.

Survivors, in addition to his daughters, are his wife of 43 years, the former Doris Magnuson; two sons, Theodore R. Geppert of Eldersburg and Carl S. Geppert of Granite; eight brothers, William J. Geppert Jr. of Rehoboth Beach, Del., John Geppert of Mendham, N.J., Dennis Geppert of Dubois, Pa., Timothy Geppert of Frederick, Gregory Geppert and Charles Geppert, both of Clearwater, Fla., Michael Geppert of Harrisburg, Pa., and Joseph Geppert of Clearfield, Pa.; two sisters, Ann Lansbery of Clearwater and Mary Kay Russell of Sheffield Lake, Ohio; and six grandchildren.

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