Thomas Yang, civil engineer who worked on Baltimore's aging infrastructure

Thomas Yang, a retired civil engineer who designed heavily traveled Baltimore bridges, died of a stroke Sunday at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. The Cockeysville resident was 79.

Born in Yangzhou, China, he was the son of Sher-Lan Yang, a school principal, and Mary Yang. As a child, he lived in a city occupied by the Japanese. After World War II, he and his parents moved to Taiwan, where he earned a bachelor's degree at National Taiwan University.

An older brother, Joseph Yang, was the first in the family to move to the U.S. and became a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University.

“I encouraged him to come to the United States and he did,” said Joseph Yang, who lives in Bethesda. “He first visited New York, and then he came to Baltimore. He was a bright man and won a license as an engineer in the state of New York as well as Maryland. He chose to stay here.”

Mr. Yang established U.S. residency in 1963. He spent a year earning a master’s degree at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.

“He was a man of high standards,” his brother said. “He was a quiet, reserved person. He was also very bright. When he went to play mah-jongg, he won. He always won.”

Mr. Yang met his future wife, Monica Wu, while they were working on a dam project in Taiwan. They later re-established contact and married in 1968 in Baltimore.

“My father was a gregarious person. He loved meeting people,” said his son, Howard C. Yang of Baltimore. “He recently returned from Europe and had a list of new friends he wanted to email. He had friends he retained from high school and college.”

His brother recalled that after Mr. Yang moved to Baltimore in 1968, they stood on a platform at Pennsylvania Station as Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral train passed by.

Mr. Yang settled in Cockeysville in 1971. He retained ties to his homeland with visits to Baltimore’s Chinese restaurants on Park Avenue in the 1970s.

He initially joined the old J.E. Greiner engineering firm and worked on bridges and elevated highways. After the Greiner firm closed, he joined Rummel, Klepper & Kahl, later RK&K.

In 1990 he was recruited to join the Baltimore Department of Transportation’s engineering construction division. He retired in 2006.

Mr. Yang became involved in the repair and reconstruction of Baltimore’s aging infrastructure. When a beam at the 28th Street interchange of the Jones Falls Expressway was damaged by a truck crash, he worked with colleagues to devise repairs.

He was also the project engineer for replacement of the Paper Mill Road bridge in the Loch Raven watershed.

When the Charles Street bridge over Interstate 83 and the Amtrak rail line needed replacement in 2000, Mr. Yang worked on its redesign. The bridge reopened in 2003 after a three-year rebuilding period.

“It was a complicated project,” said a colleague, Richard Chen. “He had to stage the construction carefully.”

He was also a member of a team of engineers that designed repairs after a street collapse in 1997 caused by a sinkhole at the corner of Franklin Street and Park Avenue.

He served as a consultant to a film company making “xXx: State of the Union,” a 2005 action movie that starred Ice Cube and Willem Dafoe. He studied the safety and strength of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge on Hanover Street for a stunt in which a character in the movie leaped from a boat to the bridge deck.

Mr. Yang, who played basketball as a young man, was a lifelong sports enthusiast. He was a fan of the old Baltimore Bullets and Colts, and later followed the Baltimore Ravens. His family said he had broad tastes in music, enjoying Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Bobby Darin, as well as Taiwanese pop music of the 1970s. His favorite opera was “Turandot.” He was also a fan of Gary Cooper and classic Hollywood films.

He enjoyed travel and returned to China and Taiwan, as well as visiting other destinations.

A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road. He attended St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Cockeysville.

In addition to his son and brother, survivors include his wife of 49 years, a retired Maryland General Hospital medical librarian; two other brothers, Arthur Yang of California and Vincent Yang of Seattle; and a grandson.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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