Thomas M. Gibbons

Thomas M. Gibbons ( )

Thomas M. Gibbons, former president and CEO of Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Cos. who also served on boards of business and educational institutions, died Sunday of complications from a stroke at The Terraces of Bonita Springs Retirement Community in Bonita Springs, Fla.

The former Roland Park resident was 88.

"Tom was one of the best executives I ever met or worked for in my life," said John Henry "Hank" Butta, a former president and CEO of C&P of Maryland. "He was good at his job and made great decisions, and he was largely responsible for the success of our company."

The son of Irish immigrants Michael Gibbons and Elizabeth Gibbons, Thomas Michael Gibbons was born and raised in Springfield, Mass.

After graduating from Cathedral High School in 1943, he enlisted in the Navy Air Corps and served as a bombardier in the South Pacific.

When the war ended in 1945, Mr. Gibbons enrolled at John Carroll University in Cleveland, where he earned a bachelor's degree in history in 1948.

On St. Patrick's Day in 1947, Mr. Gibbons was introduced to Rita Mae Nichols, and he "told a friend that he had met the girl he was going to marry. They were married on Jan. 14, 1950," said a son, David A. Gibbons of Lutherville.

Mr. Gibbons began his telephone career in 1949 as a directory representative with Ohio Bell in Cleveland, while attending law school at night.

He moved to C&P of West Virginia in 1956, and worked in Wheeling and Charleston. In 1969, he was named vice president and general manager of C&P of West Virginia, a position he retained until 1973, when he transferred to American Telephone & Telegraph headquarters in New York City as vice president of exchange services and market research.

Two years later, Mr. Gibbons was named vice president of C&P Telephone Co. of Maryland. At the time of his promotion, he oversaw about 16,000 employees who served 2.9 million telephones.

In 1979, he became executive vice president and chief operating officer at headquarters in Washington of all four C&P Telephone Cos., serving Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia and West Virginia. It was a major subsidiary of Bell Atlantic, now Verizon.

Mr. Gibbons was named president and chief operating officer in 1983, president and CEO a year later, and finally chairman and CEO in 1988. He retired in 1990.

During Mr. Gibbons' tenure with the company, he was a witness to history when what was commonly known as "Ma Bell," or the Bell System, which was owned by AT&T, the world's largest corporation, was broken up in 1984 into seven regional companies and a slimmer AT&T.

C&P, like other Bell System components, not only provided customers with local and long-distance service, telephones and easily understandable rates, but also repair service.

"It used to be simple," Mr. Gibbons told The Washington Post in a 1988 interview. "They made one call and everything was taken care of. Now they have to make choices."

"He always told it like it was. He was very straightforward," recalled Mr. Butta. "His contribution to the company was awesome. He was also one of my mentors and such a great guy."

"Improving the lives of others was always a priority," said his son. "In 1988, he served as president of the Telephone Pioneers of America, the largest industry-related volunteer organization in the world, comprised of current and retired telecommunications employees."

The former Blythewood Road resident, who later moved to McLean, Va., served on the boards of the United Way of Central Maryland, University System of Maryland Foundation, Loyola University Maryland, Notre Dame of Maryland University and the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

His corporate board memberships included Crown Central Petroleum Co., First National Bank of Maryland, American Security Bank and Maryland National Financial Corp.

After retiring, Mr. Gibbons continued serving on several corporate boards, including that of the New Zealand Telephone Co.

A golfer, he was a member of the Baltimore Country Club and the Burning Tree Club in Bethesda.

Mr. Gibbons later lived in Williamsburg, Va., and Naples, Fla. Before moving to Bonita Springs, he was presented a distinguished alumnus award in 1987 by John Carroll University.

He was a member of the Federal Association of the Knights of Malta.

He was also a peer counselor for the Mental Health Association of Southwest Florida and was a volunteer in the respite program of St. William Parish in Naples.

Mr. Gibbons was a former communicant of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St., where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 1 p.m. Friday.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Gibbons is survived by five other sons, Brian J. Gibbons of Ellicott City, Michael C. Gibbons of Sylvania, Ohio, Timothy J. Gibbons of Charleston, W.Va., Gregory D. Gibbons of Columbus, Ohio, and Thomas P. Gibbons of Short Hills, N.J.; two daughters, Kathleen G. Pickens of Ellicott City and Mary G. Myers of Towson; 24 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com