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Mark A. Thompson, known locally for his daily walks through Baltimore, dies

Many came to know Mark A. Thompson as he walked through Baltimore.

Mark A. Thompson, a former Maryland Institute College of Art student who was known for his daily walks throughout Baltimore, died Dec. 22. He was 53.

Family members said he was struck by a van while walking at Howard and 21st streets on Dec. 17. He initially declined medical attention but was later diagnosed with six broken ribs. He spent time at Greater Baltimore Medical Center and returned home for recuperation. He collapsed at his Medfield Heights home and was unresponsive when taken to Union Memorial Hospital.

Mr. Thompson's cause of death is under investigation by the Maryland medical examiner.

Born in Baltimore and raised in the family home in Medfield Heights, he was the son of John D. Thompson, a grocery store worker, and Bonnie Lee Belschner, a Hampden hair salon worker.

"He was a unique man. He was a kind and gentle soul," said a family friend, Bonnie Schneider, a Lauraville resident. "He was artistic. He had a gift."

He attended Medfield Heights Elementary School, Holy Spirit Middle School and was a 1983 graduate of Cardinal Gibbons High School.

"Mark had a love and talent for art," said his sister, Michele Jacobs of Parkton. "He painted, sketched in pencil and was a sculptor. He had works displayed at the Pearl Gallery on 36th Street in Hampden."

He completed his first two years at the Maryland Institute College of Art and received an Evergreen House Scholarship for his art excellence. He was named to the dean's list in 1984 to 1985 and won the school's 1985 Ephraim Keyser Prize.

"My brother was unable to fulfill the scholarship requirements and complete his college education because he was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young adult," said his sister. "He spent approximately five years battling his mental illness. He underwent many trials of medications and research. He was also hospitalized until he was stable."

She said that as a child, he battled a weight problem, which "was compounded when he began to take the medications for his mental illness."

"As a result, he began to walk," she said, "not only as a means of transportation but as a means to manage his weight. He walked every day, no matter what the circumstances, through hot and cold weather. He walked during blizzards and heat waves.

"He was a regimented person and lived his life based on daily schedules. He would take one to three walks per day, depending on the scheduled route of the day he created. He always wore a backpack. He has been walking more than 25 years — for his entire adult life," she said.

Mr. Thompson also kept a calendar with an itinerary of his walks. He mended his shoes with glue and wore out a backpack every year. His sister said she gave him a new pack every Christmas. He carried an umbrella, hat, scarf and gloves.

"He was determined walker, but not a particularly fast one," said a cousin, Michael Tager, a Baltimore resident. "I'd call him just a regular ambler."

Family members said his routes included trips along Falls Road to Greenspring Station, downtown Baltimore and Lexington Market, along Charles Street and York Road.

He walked to his favorite restaurants -— Frazier's on the Avenue or Holy Frijoles in Hampden, the Mount Vernon Stable on Charles Street and Bill Bateman's on York Road in Towson. Family members said he bought three doughnuts several times a week at Berger's Bakery in Lexington Market. He also carried two-liter diet sodas.

"Mark met many people along his walks, and people often stopped to talk to him. They asked him how far he had walked that day," said his sister. "He was always kind, considerate and respectful.

"He was occasionally given gifts," she said. "One person gave him a pedometer to track how far he walked."

His sister said that since his death, she learned that persons who did not know his name had created nicknames for him.

"People called him Forrest — for the movie and book character Forrest Gump — or the Backpack Man or Large Diet No Ice for the drink he ordered," she said. "They loved him and expected to see him in a certain place every day."

A memorial gathering will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, 3800 Roland Ave., where he had been a childhood member.

In addition to his sister, survivors include his mother.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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