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Barkley L. Thomas Jr., a master carpenter and Narcotics Anonymous volunteer, dies

Barkley Thomas Jr. "got his life together when he was 29," his sister said.
Barkley Thomas Jr. "got his life together when he was 29," his sister said. (Family photo / HANDOUT)

Barkley L. Thomas Jr., a carpenter for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City who spent decades volunteering with Narcotics Anonymous, died May 25 of COVID-19 and diabetic complications at Franklin Square Medical Center. He was 58 and lived in Essex.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Curtis Bay, he was the son of Barkley L. Thomas Sr., a Baltimore City police officer who served in the Northeastern District, and Bobbye T. Helfand, who owned an advertising agency for local films.

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He attended Curtis Bay Elementary School and Ben Franklin Middle School and was a 1980 graduate of Southern High School. He played amateur baseball for the Brooklyn-Curtis Bay Recreation Council.

He initially moved to Ocean City, worked on boardwalk amusement park rides and became dependent on drugs. He then resolved to turn his life around.

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“He told the story that he got out of jail and walked to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting,” said a friend, Mike Cooley of Middle River. “He was young then and getting into trouble.”

Mr. Cooley also said, “One of his motivations was to be of service to those who needed help. On a moment’s notice, he’d help a friend.”

“He got his life together when he was 29 and then dedicated his life to serving others,” said his sister, Denise Dobbeck of Bel Air. “He joined NA and started going to group meetings and counseling sessions and decided it was the right path to stand up and be a good person.

“He was also very close to his mother and knew that by stepping up and growing up would make him look good in her eyes. He wanted to be a good son,” his sister said.

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He attended NA meetings seven nights a week and held service positions within the organization. He served on the board for the Free State Region of Central Maryland conventions and was active in the Northeast Freedom Area. He also hosted a small meeting group in Rossville.

“He worked the telephones and called members to make sure they were toeing the line and made sure they showed up for meetings. If they didn’t have a ride, he would pick them up,” his sister said.

He joined Carpenters Union No. 101 on West Patapsco Avenue and initially tried to operate his own business — building gardens, refinishing furniture and remodeling homes.

In 2007 he joined the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and did rehabilitation work on abandoned properties throughout Baltimore.

He took continuing education courses about lead paint and masonry issues. He worked at the agency through May, when he was stricken with COVID-19.

“He was also a diabetic, which also contributed to his death,” said his sister.

“He had this saying, ‘Positive vibes, positive thoughts bring positive results,’ ” his sister said.

Mr. Thomas enjoyed fishing at Mariner’s Point in Joppatown. He rode a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and traveled cross country.

“Anywhere the wind took him he went. He loved his motorcycle,” his sister said.

He constructed a garden in the rear of his home in Essex.

“He had the greenest thumb of any man I’ve ever known. He loved his day lilies and his bleeding hearts and all those hostas he cultivated. He had an artistic eye when it came to his flowers,” his sister said.

“I called him a Renaissance man, a well-rounded guy. He knew and could accomplish a lot of things,” said Tamara Morris, a friend and former partner. “If he didn’t know the answer, he’d find somebody who did. He had the ability to work through situations when his own character was not serving him well.

“He changed his life successfully. He loved sharing his skills and helping people through their tough times. As outgoing as he was, he was also a private person and tried to live his life with little drama.

“He had a great work ethic, and his word was his bond,” said Ms. Morris, an Essex resident. “He had an infectious big laugh.”

In his free time he set up a furniture refinishing site in his garage.

“He could make a water spot disappear on a table or strip antique furniture and bring it back to the natural beauty of the wood. He liked to keep to busy. He did not like down time,” his sister said.

In addition to his sister, survivors include his mother, Bobbye T. Helfand of Bel Air; two daughters, Isadora Marie Richardson of Ocean City and Emily Anne Thomas of Essex. His marriage ended in divorce.

A celebration of life will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 34, 730 Wampler Road in Middle River.

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