Thomas Cooney

Thomas Cooney

Thomas W. "Tom" Cooney, a retired architect and a highly regarded fly fisherman who also enjoyed teaching the sport, died Aug. 10 of pulmonary fibrosis at his Bel Air home.

He was 75.

The son of an electrical engineer and a homemaker, Thomas William Cooney was born in Baltimore and raised on Old Harford Road in Parkville.

Mr. Cooney was a 1955 graduate of Parkville High School and attended the Johns Hopkins University. For 27 years until retiring in 2002, he worked as an architect for Nelson-Salabes Inc., a Towson architectural firm.

In addition to his work as an architect, Mr. Cooney owned and operated PASC, a Bel Air photo studio, with his wife of 25 years, the former Shirley Sterner, that specialized in wedding photography and portraiture. He also taught photography.

Mr. Cooney was 11 years old when he embraced two hobbies that shaped the rest of his life: fly fishing and photography.

"When I first met him, he was the exact opposite of me. He was very laid-back, precise, gentlemanly and had all the attributes of a man who toed the line," said Todd Holden, a friend and a former Aegis reporter, who is a Harford County photographer.

"Our common bond was photography. We shared comments, criticisms and appreciation for an art form I was just beginning to learn, while he had been at it awhile," he said.

"Over the years, as my work gained momentum, he was one of the first to appreciate it. Hardly a week went by that he didn't call or stop me to mention something regarding my work. Sometimes even my writing," said Mr. Holden.

For more than 40 years, Mr. Cooney was associated with the Cortland Line Co., a Cortland, N.Y., manufacturer of silk fly lines, fly rods, reels, flies and leaders, as a "member of its roving pro program," whereby he and a number of friends traveled throughout the region teaching fly fishing.

He was an active member and a past president of the Brotherhood of the Jungle Cock, which is a fly fishermen's conservation organization devoted to teaching boys fly fishing.

Mr. Cooney was also a charter member of the Maryland chapter of the Saltwater Fly Rodders of America.

Mr. Cooney drove a specially outfitted gray Dodge van streamside that held all of his fishing equipment and tackle.

"He got me addicted to fly fishing in the late 1950s, and over the years we fished for bass in the Gunpowder River, Dundee Creek and Seneca River," said Wes Nash.

"Tom was an excellent fly fisherman. One of the things about Tom that made us laugh was that we'd be out in the water fishing for bass or shad long before he got there," said Mr. Nash.

He'd be back at the van deciding what rod to use. He had tackle for every possible occasion and five of each rod. He had the most toys of anyone I've ever known," said Mr. Nash with a laugh.

If Mr. Cooney was an expert when it came to a rod and reel, he was also equally adept when it came to fly tying.

"He was incredibly excellent and very good," said Mr. Nash, who lives in Perry Hall.

Walter Knapp went fishing with Mr. Cooney for 45 years.

"I first met Tom not too long after I got out of the Army in 1969. He took me under his wing. He helped me develop my casting and showed me how to fish various areas," said Mr. Knapp, who lives in Roxana, Del.

"He was always in the top echelon when it came to fishing, but he never sought the publicity," said Mr. Knapp, who is also a "roving pro." "We taught small groups and we taught kids, and he was always taking some young person under his wing. He enjoyed passing on the fly-fishing tradition."

Mr. Knapp said that not only was Mr. Cooney interested in teaching fishing techniques, he also wanted people to be aware of river and fishing conservation initiatives.

"Tom had so many friends and he had a way about him. He was able to make people always feel comfortable," he said.

Mr. Cooney was also an avid collector of model lighthouses, his wife said. He enjoyed riding his bicycle and was a member of the Chesapeake Wheelmen Club.

He was a member of Bel Air United Methodist Church, 21 Linwood Ave., Bel Air, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 1.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Cooney is survived by a son, Timothy Cooney of Edgewood; three daughters, Jodie Burke of Pittsburgh, Cynthia Bautz of Street and Melissa Nelson of New Freedom, Pa.; a stepson, Chip Breighner of Forest Hill; two stepdaughters, Cynthia Graham of Bel Air and Janice Koerber of Forest Hill; a brother, David Cooney of Parkville; a sister, Kathy Wallis of Parkville; 10 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage to Shirley James ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com