Martha Jane Thomas, a former Baltimore resident, writer and editor who went on to manage an Easton independent book store, died of brain cancer May 4 at her home on the Eastern Shore. She was 60 and had lived in Roland Park.
Born in Morristown, New Jersey, she was the daughter of John Thomas, an engineer, and his wife, Mary Heskett, a private school media services worker. Ms. Thomas was a 1979 graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy and earned an English degree at the University of New Hampshire.
She lived in New York City for 12 years and worked for a UNICEF publication. She worked in special publications for The New York Times and the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts magazine, for which she won a Folio magazine award.
She moved to Baltimore in 2002 became a freelance writer.
“She liked writing about food and she was good at it,” said her life partner, Chris Rigaux. “In her late 50s, she began into moving into writing fiction as well.”
She enrolled in the creative writing program at the University of Baltimore.
“She wanted to write fiction for young adults about her family, the Tarbells, who lived in Canada and New England,” he said. “The novel she was working on was set in 1709 and featured the three Tarbell children who were captured by a Native American tribe. The daughter was traded to the French and entered a convent. Her two brothers were adopted by the Indian Tribe and remained with them the rest of their lives.”
Mr. Rigaux also said, “Martha had an ability to connect with people on a sensitive level. She had high standards in her writing and in culture. She brought a New York sensibility to Charm City. She found lot of things to savor about Baltimore.”
She wrote of the local rye whiskey industry, wine makers and craft beers brewers. She closely followed the local restaurant scene.
“Her opinion was sought after,” said Mr. Rigaux. “When writing a food review, she visited the kitchen and asked how the cooks and wait staff were treated. She had a way of connecting with people and that endeared her with her readers.”
She hosted monthly dinner parties at her home on Somerset Road in Roland Park.
“She would bring people together to hear their opinions on things,” said Mr. Rigaux. “She would host an event … [and] then ask her guests to bring a dish they wanted to show off.”
For nearly 20 years, Ms. Thomas worked for numerous publications, including Her Mind, Sip and Savor, Style magazine, Overture (The Baltimore Symphony), Zagat and The Urbanite.
She was also a lecturer in the Professional Writing Program at the University of Maryland, College Park.
She was also a freelance writer for a variety of publications, including The Washington Post, AARP’s Magazine, Foreign Service Journal, Baltimore Sun, Architectural Digest and the New York Daily News.
Ms. Thomas was a volunteer mentor in Baltimore City Schools’ Enterprise Women’s Network and a certified White Belt Nia (dance fitness) instructor.
She was working on a master’s degree in fine arts in fiction writing at the University of Southern New Hampshire at the time of her death.
“She was always on top of new restaurants and shows,” said her daughter, Mary Kelly. “She was extroverted. She was really excited to talk to people and was welcoming to new friends. She was sure of herself and her opinions. At the same time she was empathetic toward others.”
Her daughter, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, also said, “She was always reading. She had a giant stack of books all over the houses.”
When a chance arose for her to apply to manage and select books for a new, independent bookstore in Easton, she applied and was chosen to open the Flying Cloud Booksellers.
“The bookstore offer was nothing she had done before. It was perfect for her,” Kelly said. “She did all the stocking and got the store set up.”
She selected 10,000 titles.
Tracy Ward, director of the Easton Economic Development Corp. said, “Martha put this incredible bookstore together. People were amazed by the collection. Her knowledge of the literary world was deep, but she also made the right choices in the jazz music and food areas.”
Ward, who also was a former editor of The Urbanite, also said, “Martha had a curious, positive spirit and uplifting energy. She was eager to go out and learn what Baltimore had to offer in her years there.”
In addition to her daughter and life partner, survivors include her father, John Thomas of Kittery Point, Maine; two sisters, Julie Thomas of New Castle, New Hampshire and Johanna Thomas of Kittery Point; and a brother, John Thomas of McLean, Virginia.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. June 26 at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, Park and Lafayette avenues in Bolton Hill, where she was a member. It will also be streamed through the church website.