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News Obituaries

Berkley A. Thomas

Berkley Allan Thomas Jr., a retired cultural arts publicist and actor, died of dementia complications July 31 at the Summit Rehabilitation Center in Catonsville. The former Charles Village and Highlandtown resident was 80.

Born in Scarsdale, N.Y., he was the son of Berkley Allan Thomas Sr., a business executive, and Nina Grai Thomas, a researcher for House and Garden magazine. After graduating from Scarsdale High School, he attended Columbia University, where he studied comparative governments.

He served in the Air Force during the Korean War and was stationed in Japan. Friends said that during his military service, he became a karate student and developed an affection for Asian culture. He also converted to Buddhism.

He initially worked in advertising in New York City and studied acting under Warren Robertson at the Group Studio. Mr. Thomas appeared in off-Broadway productions of "Bury the Dead" and a revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire" in which he played Stanley Kowalski.

He moved to Baltimore more than 40 years ago and taught acting at Beth El Congregation.

He also became a Citizens Planning and Housing Association public relations coordinator. While working there he created public service announcements and worked on "BAWLAMER: An Informal Guide to a Livelier Baltimore," a guidebook created by the Livelier Baltimore Committee.

Friends recalled Mr. Thomas was a carpenter and craftsman. "He created CPHA's first Baltimore City Fair exhibit, which was a Cubist design of bright orange vinyl. It made CPHA stand out among all of the exhibits to the fair," said a friend, Jacqueline Lampell, a Catonsville resident. "He had strong opinions about art, theater and politics."

Mr. Thomas worked with the CPHA executive director, Albert DeSalvo, who now lives in Albany, N.Y. "Berkley was enthusiastic, talented and wildly creative," said Mr. DeSalvo. "He had a lot of ideas and challenged us to try them out. He was a man of many talents."

About the time the Theatre Project opened on West Preston Street, Mr. Thomas volunteered his services.

"I remember the day. I had a radio interview about Theatre Project, and when I got back to Preston Street, there was Berkley, waiting for me on the steps," said Philip Arnoult, Theatre Project founder, who lives in Baltimore. "He wanted to know more about Theatre Project. And he wanted to help. He was an arts gadfly in the best sense of the word. He saw himself as an actor and a teacher. He was also one of those Baltimore characters of that period. He marched to his own band."

Mr. Thomas became an advocate for the Theatre Project, he said. "He was wonderfully bombastic and brought in to Theatre Project people like [businessman and philanthropist] Howard Head. He told them they just had to be there."

Mr. Arnoult recalled performing with Mr. Thomas in a production of "Oedipus Rex."

In 1974, when Mr. Thomas was seriously injured in an auto accident, the Olufumflayo African dance company held a benefit performance for him.

During the 1970s Mr. Thomas was involved with a number of arts projects. He established a weekend film series at Towson University. He and a partner, David Guggenheim, a film teacher at Antioch College, founded the Movie House because of what they called "an astonishing lack of opportunity to see the best in contemporary cinema." They screened the film "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" and brought in director Martin Scorsese to discuss his work.

In a 1975 Baltimore Sun article, Mr. Thomas said they chose Towson because of "their conviction that many people in their potential audience are afraid to come to a downtown theater."

He also worked in public relations for the Painters Mill Music Fair in Owings Mills. He joined the city of Baltimore's Urban Services Cultural Arts Program and ran one of its neighborhood centers on North Avenue.

"He worked at the very beginning of our program," said Norman E. Ross, a former Urban Services administrator who lives in Randallstown. "He collected African artifacts and made a nice display of them."

Mr. Thomas was also a sales representative and worked for the Living Classrooms Foundation, where he taught woodworking.

A memorial service will be held at noon Aug. 17 at the SGI-USA Baltimore Community Center at 1111 Park Ave. in Bolton Hill, where was an active member.

Mr. Thomas has no immediate survivors. His marriage to Patricia Thomas ended in divorce in the 1970s.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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