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Thomas 'Tommy' Toporovich, former longtime Baltimore County Council secretary and fashion plate, dies

Thomas “Tommy” Toporovich, the former longtime colorful Baltimore County Council secretary and Dundalk community activist who was a proponent of the “Full Dundalk” look when it came to his sartorial splendor, died Monday from cancer at the Riverview Rehabilitation and Health Center in Essex.

He was 89.

“Tom was an excellent representative of Dundalk and did a great job. He was very capable and did a great job representing the people down there,” said former longtime state Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., who was known as Dundalk’s “Senator for Life.”

“He was always very available, easy to talk to, and just a good person,” the veteran Democrat said. “No one ever had anything bad to say about Tommy.”

“Tom was the most generous individual I’ve ever met. He did so much for charity and was consumed with trying to help people and the police department,” said former longtime Baltimore County Police Chief Cornelius J. Behan, a close friend. “He pulled no punches and took no baloney. Tom was straightforward and honest.”

Thomas Toporovich, whose thick New York City accent remained with him throughout his life, was born in Manhattan and raised in Yorkville on the Upper East Side.

The youngest of five brothers, he was the son of Polish immigrant parents. His father, Michael Toporovich, owned a commercial window washing firm, and his mother, Mary Toporovich, was a homemaker.

He was a 1948 graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School and later was a summa cum laude graduate of the old Baltimore College of Commerce, which later became the University of Baltimore.

In 1951, he married the former Edith Goehringer, also a New Yorker and community activist, who died in 2004.

Mr. Toporovich was working as an assistant construction superintendent for Walsh Construction, which at the time, was one of the five largest construction companies in the world, according to an autobiographical profile he wrote, when he was drafted into the Army during the Korean War.

Sent to Fort Bragg, N.C., Mr. Toporovich served in chemical, biological and radiological warfare, as company clerk and the athletic and recreation non-commissioned officer for the 3,000 troops in his unit.

Discharged in 1955, Mr. Toporovich returned to Walsh Construction, and after a brief time working on the St. Lawrence Seaway project, was sent to work by the company to join a project at Bethlehem Steel Corp.’s Sparrows Point plant.

By the time the job ended 11 years later, he had risen to office manager and with his wife had put down deep roots in Dundalk. He declined a transfer, left the company and began working for a Towson insurance firm.

Because he had become active in community affairs, he was asked to run for County Council on a ticket headed by Fred Dewberry that was backed by Christian H. Kahl, the county’s second executive.

Mr. Dewberry was defeated in 1966 by Dale Anderson, who became county executive, and it was Mr. Anderson who named Mr. Toporovich to his personal staff in 1969, as liaison to the County Council. He became his administrative assistant in 1970, and then finally became council secretary in 1974.

Mr. Anderson, a conservative organization Democrat who was elected county executive twice, was forced to resign after being convicted of political corruption in 1974.

During his tenure as council secretary, Mr. Toporovich worked for six county executives in addition to Mr. Anderson and Mr. Dewberry, including Ted Venetoulis, Donald P. Hutchinson, Dennis F. Rasmussen and Roger B. Hayden.

In a 1991 interview at the time of his retirement, he told The Baltimore Sun that of all the county executives he had worked for, Mr. Anderson had been his favorite.

“Anderson, in Toporovich’s view, was a real leader, the kind of elected official never afraid to take a stand or express his very strong opinions, regardless of popularity or polls,” observed The Sun.

“He was the most honest and direct in dealing with the public,” he told the newspaper, adding that he never “saw evidence of corruption or of the kickbacks that architects and engineers testified they were paying for the privilege of getting contracts on building jobs for the county.”

As council secretary who regularly worked 80-hour weeks, he doubled its legislative sessions, established the process of public hearings in the quadrennial process of of comprehensive rezoning, oversaw the remodeling of the County Council chambers, and the installation of a council security system after a 1976 Baltimore City Hall shooting that left a councilman dead and four others wounded.

The first non-attorney to hold the position, Mr. Toporovich played a leading role in establishing the County Council as an independent branch of local government, served as a member of the Charter Review Commission, which was the first time it had been reviewed since being adopted by voters in 1956.

Known as the “Mayor of Dundalk,” Mr. Toporovich immersed himself in local civic affairs. For years he was the longtime fundraiser and master of ceremonies for the annual three-day Dundalk Heritage Fair, which drew in excess of 50,000 visitors, and was followed by a parade, and fireworks on the Fourth of July.

His resume lists some 50 organizations that he was actively involved with, with a particular focus on those that were county police-oriented.

He had been president of the Police Assistance and Relief Fund of Baltimore County and was a charter member and first president of the Baltimore County Police & Community Relations Council.

He was the original president of the Dundalk Police & Community Relations Council and a member of the Dundalk Police Advisory Council.

“Tommy was a good fundraiser and always raised more money than anybody else for these organizations,” said Baltimore County Police Col. Frank G. Messina, former head of homicide, who retired after 28 years in 1987.

Col. Kim Ward, a county police officer for 33 years until retiring from the Community Resources Bureau in 2005, was an old friend of Mr. Toporovich.

“Tom was a person who gave his heart and soul in support of law enforcement officers and law enforcement in general,” she wrote in an email. “He took great pride in honoring the police officers of the year from the Dundalk precinct and it was an event I always tried to attend.”

Dundalk was the center of Mr. Toporovich’s universe, and he took umbrage at those who disparaged it.

“People who dash Dundalk are ignorant people,” he told The Sun in a 1995 interview. “They don’t take the time to learn what they’re talking about. I’ve lived in seven states and spent 21 years in New York City. But there isn’t another place in the U.S.A. I’d want to live.”

Mr. Toporovich’s sartorial splendor, for which he was widely known through the years, consisted of white shoes and a white belt, which in some latitudes, is referred to as “a “full Towson.”

Now, he told The Sun, if you add a white tie to the white shoes and belt combination, you’re now talking about “a full Dundalk.”

He was a communicant of St. Rita Roman Catholic Church, 2907 Dunleer Road, Dundalk, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9 a.m. May 7.

He is survived by nieces and nephews.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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