Mary Valliant Thomas, former general manager of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association who later was a church secretary in St. Michaels for more than a decade, died Aug. 20 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at her Neavitt home. She was 76.
Mary Valliant Warner was born in Baltimore and raised in Mount Washington. After graduating from Eastern High School, she attended what is now Towson University.
She worked for the old State Roads Commission and in the admissions department at the Johns Hopkins University before taking a job in 1965 as assistant general manager of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.In 1977, she was promoted to acting general manager. She was named general manager in 1986, the first woman to hold the position, and retired three years later.
"No accomplishment or award achieved by the MHBA during the past 24 years would have been possible without Mary's input," recalled a 1989 article in Maryland Horse magazine at the time of her retirement.
"Never a headliner in her own right, she sought only the betterment of the MHBA and its magazine, the Maryland Horse," the article said.
It described Mrs. Thomas as an "indispensable person" who had a "remarkably cheerful manner and was always sensitive to immediate problems."
"Mary Thomas was instrumental in working with Snowden Carter, general manager of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, helping grow the MHBA into one of the pre-eminent thoroughbred breeding organizations in the country," said The Baltimore Sun's former racing writer, Ross Peddicord, now co-publisher of Maryland Life.
"She was Snowden's right-hand aide. They seemed virtually joined at the hip in their dedication to promoting the state's horse industry and really created a role model for other state breeding organizations to follow," he said.
"Mary was calm, unflappable and thoroughly devoted to the organization and all things equine in Maryland," Mr. Peddicord said. "For several decades, she and Snowden were synonymous with thoroughbred horse breeding in Maryland, the go-to people to get things done."
Mrs. Thomas' duties were many and varied.
She administered the Maryland Fund bonus program, which annually allocated $3 million to breeders, while quietly pushing editors, writers and photographers who were producing editorial content for the next edition of Maryland Horse to be mindful of looming deadlines.
She also directly interacted with advertisers, freelance writers and photographers, as well as organizing and coordinating parties, meetings and special events.
A horse show enthusiast when her children were riding, Mrs. Thomas expanded and deepened her knowledge of thoroughbreds after going to work for the association.
Mrs. Thomas worked at horse auctions for the Maryland Sales Agency and Fasig-Tipton Co., in addition to traveling to Lexington, Ky., to attend meetings pertaining to sales catalogs.
"Mary was one of the hardest-working individuals anyone could imagine," Lucy Acton, editor of Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, formerly Maryland Horse, said yesterday.
"She set a standard of excellence for the Maryland Horse Breeders Association that earned her respect locally and nationally. No one has contributed more to the state's thoroughbred breeding industry over the past 40 years than Mary Thomas," Ms. Acton said.
After retiring in 1989, Mrs. Thomas and her husband, James B. Thomas, whom she also married that year, moved to Neavitt, a small Talbot County town.
In 1993, she launched a second career as secretary at Christ Episcopal Church in St. Michaels.
"Mary was parish secretary for a good many years and a constant force here. She was always steady and hardworking," said the Rev. Paul Winters, who has been rector of the St. Michaels church for the past decade.
"She spoke her mind as well and was willing to tell you what she thought, and that was a good thing," he said.
Mrs. Thomas retired for a second time in 2005.
She was also a communicant of Christ Church, where she was a member of its Altar Guild.
An avid boater, Mrs. Thomas also edited "The Civil War Letters of First Lieutenant James B. Thomas," a Union soldier who was her husband's grandfather.
Mrs. Thomas was a member of the Docent's Guild, St. Michaels Museum at St. Mary's Square, and the Upper Shore Genealogical Society.
A memorial service was held at her church Monday.
Surviving are two sons, Edwin Steuart Turnbull Jr. of Stewartstown, Pa., and Thomas Clayland Turnbull of Baltimore; a daughter, Donna Valliant Turnbull Kurtinecz of Stewartstown; two stepdaughters, Miriam Thomas Brandau of Baltimore and Ellen Thomas of Annapolis; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage to Edwin S. Turnbull ended in divorce.