Robert J. Thieblot

Attorney And Author Served On Baltimore's School Board And Preservation Commission

April 20, 2009|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,

Robert Jean Thieblot, an attorney who championed Baltimore's architecture and neighborhoods as a member of the city's preservation commission, died of cancer Thursday at his Bolton Hill home. He was 76.

Born in Teaneck, N.J., and raised in Hagerstown, he attended Georgetown Preparatory School and Mercersburg Academy before earning a bachelor's degree at Princeton University. He was a graduate of Harvard Law School.

Mr. Thieblot read widely in classical studies, political history, architecture and natural philosophy, said his brother, Armand Jean Thieblot of Baltimore, and turned his love of learning into a sweeping historical novel published in 1997.

"He would count among his finest achievements his masterful portrayal of the Italian city-states and the papal succession in his monumental novel, Telemachus, the product of years of dedicated and careful research," his brother said.

Mr. Thieblot moved to Baltimore in 1961. He was a founding partner of the law firm Allen Thieblot and Hughes, later Thieblot and Ryan.

Mr. Thieblot walked to his World Trade Center office from his Bolton Hill home and often took different routes to observe Baltimore's buildings and vistas. He liked noting changes in the harbor from windows in his office.

"He was a great civil leader who didn't let his politics get in the way of achieving things," said a friend and neighbor, former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides. "Bob was politically one of the most conservative Republicans and was also a most gracious human being."

Mr. Thieblot served in various capacities as president or board member of the Boys Home Society, the H.L. Mencken House, The Kiwanis Club of Baltimore City, the Wednesday Club, the Baltimore Bar Library, the Merchants Club, the Mount Royal Improvement Association, and the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation. He was a supporter of the Heritage Foundation and the Thomas Jefferson summer retreat, Poplar Forest.

As president of the Mount Royal Improvement Association, in Bolton Hill, he lambasted city officials when public fountains failed to flow, and he defended Baltimore's architecture and street trees.

In a 1963 letter to The Sun, he discussed how difficult it was to get a tree planted. "The procedure is so vexatious that one goes away with the distinct impression that wanting trees on the streets is considered a sort of private folly that ought not be encouraged."

Mr. Thieblot was active in Republican politics and served a term on the Baltimore City school board in 1971.

"Even those of other persuasions agreed that his positions were well-reasoned, seldom disparaging and commonly presented with humor and charm," his brother said.

Some members of the City Council expressed fears that Mr. Thieblot was too personally conservative to serve on the school board. He was confirmed by a vote of 15-4.

For more than four decades, Mr. Thieblot and his wife, artist Suzanna Cohoes Thieblot, invited hundreds of neighbors to their home each December.

"Bob stationed himself at the front door, greeting some of the 200-plus guests, while Suzie circulated through the multiple floors of their Bolton Hill home," reported Sun columnist Rob Kasper last year. "Bob, a rock-ribbed Republican living in a neighborhood swarming with liberal Democrats, once told me: 'Suzie and I see ourselves as missionaries. We believe that if we douse our liberal neighbors with enough good wine and smoked oysters, they will eventually begin to see the error of their ways.' "

A memorial gathering will be held at 5 p.m. May 14 at the Bar Library Company of Baltimore, Room 618 of the Mitchell Courthouse, Fayette and Calvert streets.

In addition to his wife of 50 years and his brother, survivors include a daughter, Aline Thieblot Walker of Glen Burnie.

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