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Maria Luisa Thomas "had incredible rhythm and could dance better than anyone in the family, particularly to salsa music,” said her granddaughter, Marisa Shuler of Baltimore.
Maria Luisa Thomas "had incredible rhythm and could dance better than anyone in the family, particularly to salsa music,” said her granddaughter, Marisa Shuler of Baltimore.

Maria Luisa Thomas, a community volunteer recalled for her fashion sense and musical style, died of complications from flu and pneumonia Jan. 28 at Seasons Hospice at Sinai Hospital. The Greenspring Valley resident was 86.

Born in Havana, she was the daughter of Jose de Almagro and Maria Luisa Azpiazu. The family originally resided in the Basque region of Spain. She returned to Cuba in the summers to visit her grandmother.

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An uncle, Justo Angel “Don” Azpiazu, was a Cuban orchestra leader whose recordings popularized the rumba throughout the United States. His 1930 Victor-label recording of “The Peanut Vendor” sold a million copies.

“She had incredible rhythm and could dance better than anyone in the family, particularly to salsa music,” said her granddaughter, Marisa Shuler of Baltimore.

She played the piano by ear — she disliked piano lessons — and had a song, “What Is Love?” published while she was in her early 20s.

She and her family moved to New York City in 1943. She was a graduate of the Ethel Walker School in Connecticut and attended Mount Vernon Junior College in Washington, D.C.

She moved to Baltimore when her stepfather, Massimo Freccia became the conductor and musical director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She and her family were the guests of honor at a luncheon attended by 1,500 people at the old Emerson Hotel, according to a story in The Sun.

She also was present at opening-night parties and dinners described in the paper at that time.

In 1957 she married Walter Brooks “Terry” Thomas, a United Way and Combined Health Agencies fundraising executive. Rosa Ponselle, the Metropolitan Opera soprano sang at their wedding reception held at Laural, the home of Mrs. Ral Parr.

“She had the most impeccable taste,” said her granddaughter. “She also gave the fashion advice. She single-handedly found dresses for my proms. She loved to shop and made friends at Nordstrom’s. She knew everyone there. She had a style of her own.”

Mrs. Thomas cultivated friends throughout the Greenspring Valley and Ruxton.

“She was a people person and formed friendships wherever she went," said her daughter, Maria Luisa “Nina” Heckman of Ruxton. "She had a presence. She knew the people at Graul’s [market] and at the Giant. It was the way she was.”

Mrs. Thomas had a standing Friday noon hairdressing appointment and also made friends at the 100 West Hair Studio.

She was a traveler and often visited Rome and Gstaad, Switzerland, to visit her mother and stepfather.

She was an ardent Roman Catholic and often prayed to the Virgin Mary.

“While she adored her husband’s dry sense of humor, Maria’s humor was more witty, full of punch lines and one-liners that had anyone around her doubled over,” said her granddaughter.

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·Mrs. Thomas enjoyed dining out and was a devotee of seafood dishes in Ladispoli, Italy, , dinners at Linwoods in Owings Mills and margaritas at Clavel in Remington.

She was a member of the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club, where she was a regular diner with family and friends.

“She was a No. 1 Ravens fan and once ... approached Justin Tucker at The Valley Inn and accidentally called him Justin Bieber,” said her granddaughter.

She was a volunteer at Stella Maris Hospice and the Garrison Forest School.

A funeral Mass was offered Friday at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Glyndon, where she was a member of the parish.

In addition to her daughter and granddaughter, survivors include a son, John Gregg Thomas of Pikesville, and three other grandchildren. Her husband of 51 years died in 2008.

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