Thomas E. Fowlkes, 40, rehabilitation coordinator


Thomas Eugene Fowlkes, who as a RETURN program coordinator at Sinai Hospital worked tirelessly to help people with brain injuries regain their independence and ability to work, died May 12 of AIDS at his Jessup residence. He was 40.

Mr. Fowlkes joined the staff of RETURN, which was established at the Northwest Baltimore hospital in 1986, in 1990 as a facilitator and created the Community Reentry II program, which prepared patients to return to their homes and jobs.

"He had an enormous amount of patience and empathy, and could help people manage their grief and get them over the rough spots," said Fran Forstenzer, RETURN program manager.

Mr. Fowlkes was responsible for an average of 12 patients at a time. The painstaking recovery can take more than 20 weeks, Ms. Forstenzer said.

"You have to be willing to wait. It is oftentimes a slow and deliberate process," she said, "and the patients loved him because he took them under his wing."

Mr. Fowlkes' specialty was life skills, directed study in which patients had to learn tasks such as eating with utensils and writing that would lead them back to their former lives. He also worked with their families, explaining that those tasks had to be mastered and that there was no shortcut.

"He had a feeling for those who were dealing with something that was difficult, and he brought a boundless sense of energy to it, which was no doubt motivated by the fact that he realized he didn't have enough time left in his own life," Ms. Forstenzer said.

Mr. Fowlkes disliked petty things and was known and admired by his colleagues for his enthusiasm, which always seem to culminate in his trademark call to action: "Let's get to the heart of it. Let's do the job."

Mr. Fowlkes was to speak this month at the prestigious Williamsburg Conference on the Rehabilitation of the Brain Injured with two Sinai colleagues, Chris Meister, a rehabilitation consultant, and Bonnie Brobst, a special education teacher and life skills coordinator, with whom he had written a book on cognitive rehabilitation.

Born in Turners Station, Mr. Fowlkes was a 1972 graduate of Dundalk High School and earned his bachelor's degree in audiology from the University of Maryland College Park in 1977. He earned a master's degree in audiology from George Washington University in 1979 and a doctorate in the subject in ** 1985 from Ohio State University .

He was a coordinator in New York City for United Cerebral Palsy and was an assistant professor of audiology at St. John's University. He later taught audiology at Southern Methodist University before joining the staff of the hospital.

In honor of his work and friendship, his co-workers donated a panel to the AIDS Quilt in his memory.

"The best thing we can do for Tom is to continue the work he loved to do, and by doing it he found his reason for living," Ms. Forstenzer said.

Mr. Fowlkes was a charter member of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's Commission on Disabilities and volunteered at HERO.

He liked collecting black memorabilia and Oriental porcelains, and raising vegetables and flowers at his Jessup farm.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. June 16 at 8780 Mary Lane in Jessup.

He is survived by two sisters, Gwendolyn Funnie of Baltimore and Debbie Valdez of Washington; his stepmother, Mavis Fowlkes of Boynton Beach, Fla; two nephews; and his companion, William Smith.

Memorial donations may be made to the HERO Drop-In Center, 101 W. Read St., Baltimore 21201.

Pub date: 6/02/96

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