Cleora B. Thompson

City planner who became Howard County's first archivist and helped put many landmarks on the national register

February 22, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Cleora B. "Cleo" Thompson, a city planner who became Howard County's first archivist and whose countywide architectural survey resulted in many structures being placed on the National Register of Historic Places, died Feb. 13 of Alzheimer's disease at a daughter's home in Newton, Mass.

The former longtime Columbia resident was 79.

Cleora Barnes was born in New York City and raised in New Haven, Conn. After graduating in 1949 from Milhouse High School in New Haven, she earned a bachelor's degree in 1953 in political science and history from the University of Connecticut at Storrs.

In the early 1950s, she worked as a city planner for the New Haven City Plan Commission while attending Yale University's School of Architecture.

Her work at that time was focused on Wooster Square, which eventually became the city's first historic district.

Mrs. Barnes had full scholarships to graduate programs of city and regional planning at both Yale University and Georgia Institute of Technology and attended both for a year.

Her graduate school studies were interrupted when she married Dwight Stanley Thompson, a career Army officer, in 1954.

During her husband's various military assignments, Mrs. Thompson worked as a planning consultant in Georgia and Hawaii.

She later earned a master's degree in political science and architecture in 1968 from the University of Utah.

In 1970, the couple moved to Columbia, where her husband took his final assignment as Army provost marshal at Fort Meade.

After retiring from the service with the rank of lieutenant colonel, he became an attorney and Howard County prosecutor. He died in 2004.

Mrs. Thompson was coordinator in 1975 of the Baltimore neighborhood survey that had been commissioned by the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

"As part of that job, she helped develop an education program and taught architectural elements for the Summer Job Corps, a program for at-risk youth in Baltimore, and proposed recreational sites for the city's revitalization program," said a daughter, Susan Wright Thompson of Newton, Mass.

In 1976, Mrs. Thompson was named Howard County archivist by the Howard County Office Department of Planning and Zoning, a position she held until 1981.

"What I'm interested in is historic preservation," she said in a 1980 interview with the Howard County News.

As part of her work, Mrs. Thompson traveled throughout the county conducting independent site visits, interviews with homeowners and deed searches and photographing historic structures, which resulted in an impressive photographic and narrative record.

"She was always in her car driving the back roads with her camera by her side," her daughter said.

"She also wrote almost 500 descriptions of sites scattered throughout the county, including documenting the presence of African-Americans at a site near Ellicott City along the Patapsco River," Ms. Thompson said. "She was a talented photographer and her surveys were supported by detailed photos from each site."

Mrs. Thompson also had been a planning consultant to the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning from 1981 to 1983.

She donated her personal archives to the department in 2005.

Mrs. Thompson was an active member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and had served for four years as a member of the Wilde Lake Architectural Commission in Columbia.

"I got to know her when her husband was my supervisor in the Howard County state's attorney's office years ago," said Ronald Hogg, who became a close family friend.

"She was a very smart lady and a delight to have a conversation with. She was an interesting person, just super smart, and could talk on any subject in great detail," said Mr. Hogg, a lawyer who is now in private practice.

After retiring from Howard County, she continued working for several years as a sales associate at the old Woodward & Lothrop department store in Columbia.

Since leaving Columbia in 2005, Mrs. Thompson lived with family members in Baltimore, Lexington Park and Newton.

Mrs. Thompson was a world traveler.

Plans for a memorial service to be held at St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, where Mrs. Thompson was a longtime communicant, were incomplete.

Also surviving are two sons, Jon Thompson of Lexington Park and Downs Thompson of Coto de Caza, Calif; two other daughters, Katharine Linzer of Baltimore and Mary Iyer of Lubbock, Texas; and 13 grandchildren.

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