Thomas A. Flowers, 82, Shore councilman, teacher

August 09, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Thomas A. Flowers, a Dorchester County councilman and retired educator who enjoyed collecting, writing and lecturing about his county's history and folklore, died in his sleep Saturday at his Cambridge home. He was 82.

Dr. Flowers, who called himself "The Old Honker," was born and raised at Fishing Creek on Hoopers Island, the son of a waterman.

A 1939 graduate of the old Hoopers Island High School, he earned a bachelor's degree in 1943 from what was then Salisbury State Teachers College.

He began his teaching career in the one-room Tylerton Elementary on Smith Island before enlisting in the Army, and served in Europe as a medic with the 45th Division during World War II. He attained the rank of technical sergeant and earned a Bronze Star.

After the war, he enrolled at Temple University in Philadelphia and earned a master's degree in political science and economics, and then at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he earned his doctorate in education.

In 1948, he returned to the classroom and had teaching assignments at Hurlock Elementary and Cambridge junior and senior high schools. After a decade as principal of Academy Elementary in Cambridge, Dr. Flowers was appointed supervisor of elementary and junior high schools by the county Board of Education.

He was the school system's interim director of education at his retirement in 1977.

Dr. Flowers, a Democrat, entered politics in 1974 when he was elected a Dorchester County commissioner. At his death, he represented District 3 on the County Council.

"He meant a lot to the people of the county, and he touched them through many different venues. Some knew him as The Old Honker, while others knew him through politics or economic development," said Cambridge Mayor Cleveland L. Rippons. "He was always very pleasant to be around but could be rigid when it came to something he believed in and wanted for the county."

Outspoken, Dr. Flowers gave one of the most memorable invocations in Maryland public works history in 1980, when he spoke at the opening of the $3.5 million concrete bridge that connected upper and lower Hoopers Island - a project he heartily disapproved of.

"Father, today we are gathered here to dedicate a bridge that is a monument to man's stupidity, a monument to man's waste, a monument to government interference and inefficiency," he declared to an audience that included shocked state and county officials. "For there is no need for such an elaborate structure as this is ... which is so out of keeping in the peaceful and lovely environment of south Dorchester."

For more than 20 years, Dr. Thomas conducted a Sunday school for inmates of the Dorchester Detention Center, and on Christmas Eve he brought refreshments and holiday cheer.

Dr. Thomas' interest in Dorchester's folklore, superstitions, history and genealogy began in his childhood, and he spent the remainder of his life recording them. For years, he wrote a newspaper column, "The Old Honker," for the Daily Banner in Cambridge, and was much in demand as a storyteller.

"I can't ever remember a time when my father didn't bounce me on his knee and tell me the stories of his childhood on Barren Island, and later, on Hoopers Island," he wrote in his book, Shore Folklore: Growing Up With Ghosts, 'n Legends, 'n Tales, 'n Home Remedies.

"Folklore takes many forms: superstitions, home medicine, remedies, legends, tales, poetry, games, songs, arts, and crafts," he wrote. "The enhancement of folklore comes from the storytellers, who are an endangered species with the loss of country stores. This author loved being a nightly visitor to these groups on Hoopers Island."

Dr. Thomas enchanted listeners with tales of Eastern Shore people who kept needles beside their beds or wore spiked iron bands around their waists to ward off witches while sleeping. He told hair-raising stories of the dead making a sound like rustling leaves in locust groves as they rose from graves in backyard cemeteries to re-enter their former homes and make their presence known by rattling china and tilting pictures.

"Everything he did, he did all the way. He wanted to preserve and promote local culture and he wanted people to know all the things that he knew," said Elaine Eff, a state folklorist with the Cultural Conservation Program of the Maryland Historical Trust. "We were very fortunate to have Tom."

"When I heard that Tom had died, I thought he's gotten to heaven first, and now he's telling all those Hooper Island stories before I got there," said Evelyn E. Robinson of Tideville, a longtime friend and storyteller. "We both had been crab-pickers and we loved to tell stories. We both liked politics and were flag-raisers."

"He was vigorous and active until the last day of his life. He'd be out there as the sun came up walking around Cambridge waving to people," David Ryan, editor of the Daily Banner, said yesterday.

He was a member of Christ Episcopal Church in Cambridge, where services will be held at 12:30 p.m. today.

Dr. Flowers' wife of 57 years, the former M. Frances Leonard, died in January.

Surviving are a son, Dean Flowers of Sparks; two daughters, Ann F. Bradford of Abingdon and Jane H. Flowers of Cambridge; and three grandchildren.

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