Thomas E. Florestano, a long-serving president of Anne Arundel Community College, died March 31 of Parkinson's disease complications at Ginger Cove Health Center. He was 79 and had lived in Annapolis.
"Tom did a great deal to bring our community college into national prominence," said former Anne Arundel County Executive Robert Neall. "He was local. He knew the county and he knew our needs. He was a mentor and a friend."
Born in Annapolis and raised on Monticello Avenue, he was the son of Ernest Florestano and Lena Lorea. His father's family had emigrated from Italy and started restaurants, grocery stores and real estate investments in the county.
He attended Germantown Elementary School and was a 1952 graduate of St. Mary's High School, where he played football, basketball and lacrosse as a defenseman. He was known as "Flo" to his friends and spent summers sailing on Spa Creek, the Severn River and the Chesapeake Bay.
His studies at the University of Maryland, College Park were interrupted by his service in the Army. He was a military police officer in Korea and in Frankfurt, Germany.
He left military service in 1956 as a sergeant and resumed his studies at the University of Maryland. There he met his future wife, Patricia Sherer, who now is chair of the Board of Regents of the University System of Maryland. She became a University of Baltimore faculty member.
"It made it lovely for the two of us. We could talk higher education, and it would drive our children crazy," she said.
He earned a bachelor's degree in education and continued his studies at Maryland and worked as an adviser at the Fort Meade Army Education Center.
He received a master's degree in education at Maryland in 1962 and became the school's assistant dean of student life and director of student activities. He also advised the Student Government Association, directed freshman orientation and supervised graduate interns, according to a sketch provided by family members.
In 1966, he resigned to work on his doctorate at Maryland and worked for the school as an academic adviser and in administrative positions.
In 1969, he was named dean of continuing education for Anne Arundel Community College. He received his doctorate at Maryland in 1970 and he took a similar position as dean of evening and community education and summer school for Prince George's Community College in Largo.
Dr. Florestano was appointed president of Anne Arundel Community College in 1979.
"His goal was to make the college a major educational and cultural center for the county," said his wife. "He made an invaluable contribution to higher education with his hugely successful years as president. He took over an institution that had declining enrollment, a deficit, and tension between faculty and administration. He left behind the third-largest community college in the state and one of the strongest and soundest."
She said he steered the college through rapid change to accommodate enrollment growth and demand for new courses.
From 1979 to 1994, enrollment nearly tripled, from 13,128 to about 36,000.
He introduced programs in paralegal studies and radiology technology and added numerous new buildings, including the Johnson classroom building and the Pascal Center for Performing Arts.
From 1987 to 2001, he was a member of the board of trustees of the Anne Arundel General Health Care System and vice chairman of the board of directors of Anne Arundel Medical Center.
"Hospitals were getting out of the business of teaching subjects such as radiation and assisting a physician," said Martin L. "Chip" Doordan, former chief executive officer of Anne Arundel Health Systems. "He took over those courses, and we provided the actual training later on."
Dr. Florestano worked with hospitals and fostered an Allied Health program. In 1981, he established an emergency medical technician program.
In 1994, when he retired from the college, he accepted a seat on the Anne Arundel County Board of Education.
He received numerous community awards.
"Tom loved helping people, especially young men and women considering going to college or already in college," his wife said.
A moment of silence was observed Tuesday for Dr. Florestano when Anne Arundel Community College announced its new president.
He also enjoyed golf, and watching football and lacrosse. He spent winters in Naples, Fla., and summers at the Hobo Apartments in Ocean City.
A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. April 10 at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis.
In addition to his wife of 51 years, survivors include a son, Thomas E. Florestano Jr. of Reston, Va.; a daughter, Leslie Florestano Peek of Calvert County; and his brother, Ernest Florestano of Norfolk, Va.