Thomas G. Padgett, 79, unofficial Hampden 'ambassador'


Thomas Gwaltney Padgett, who was known as Hampden's unofficial "Ambassador of Good Will," died Tuesday of a heart attack at his home there. He was 79.

Since his wife's death in 1989, Mr. Padgett seldom varied from his daily regimen. Early in the morning, he'd leave his West 37th Street rowhouse and head to The Avenue (36th Street).

After a breakfast at 10 a.m. of a cheese omelet, bacon and eggs or sausage and French toast and joking with customers at Mike's Place Diner on West 36th Street, Mr. Padgett would join several friends on a bench at Roland Avenue and 36th Street.

"Everyone called him 'Mr. Tom,' and he'd go and sit with a bunch of guys we called the 'Over the Hill Gang,' " said Mike Sabracos, the diner's co-owner and a commercial real estate agent.

"He was always a cheerful and fun person who put a smile on everybody's face. He was a good-hearted soul and everyone's friend. He spent his afternoons walking The Avenue, joking with local store owners and their patrons," he said.

Mr. Sabracos said that each evening on his way home, Mr. Padgett would drop by the diner to wish the diner co-owner's mother, whom he called "Mom," a good evening.

"Mr. Tom wasn't a public official or a movie star. He was a man who touched the lives of many people and always left them smiling," he said.

Mr. Padgett, slightly over 6 feet tall and loquacious, was never without his baseball cap and big smile.

"People knew he liked caps, and they were always bringing him new ones. He had caps from Alaska to San Antonio," said a daughter, Patricia M. Krasowski of Perry Hall.

"He knew everyone in Hampden and knew everything that was going on there. He'd go out rain or shine, and always returned home around sundown," she said.

"He was like a grandpa to the kids. He'd give them a dollar or two. He always had something for them," she said.

His perambulations took him to the Hampden Food Market, and then Mamie's Cafe on West 36th Street, where he lunched on soft crabs and crab cakes and then a big slab of peach pie.

"He never asked for anything except peach pie, and if I didn't have it, he'd give me hell," said Brenda Weber, the restaurant owner, laughing.

"He was one of the most generous men I've ever known. He'd bought lunches for people and was always giving me money to help out people. He always had a soft spot for those in need, and we'll never know how much good he did," she said.

"He always gave you a big hug," said Tracey Carpenter, a funeral director at the Burgee-Henss-Seitz Funeral Home in Hampden, where Mr. Padgett would doff his hat in respect if he saw a funeral procession getting underway.

Mr. Padgett, who was born in Richmond, Va., was reared in the Brooklyn section of the city. A Southern High School graduate, he played shortstop during the 1930s with a semi-professional baseball team in Salisbury.

He served with the Army's 26th Infantry Division in Europe during World War II until his discharge in 1945.

After the war, he began his career as a pipefitter with the W. R. Grace & Co. Davison Chemical Division in Curtis Bay, and later worked for Grace's experimental division in Columbia, where he built experimental machinery. He retired in 1982.

In 1951 he married the former Theresa Sandl, who died a decade ago.

He was a communicant of St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church, West 37th Street and Hickory Avenue in Hampden, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today.

Mr. Padgett is survived by another daughter, Nancy E. Saul of Baldwin; a sister, Rose Harrison of Baltimore; and four grandchildren.

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