Dr. Richard G. Thomas Jr., a longtime Baltimore County educator who helped in the integration of county public schools in the 1950s, died Thursday of complications of a stroke at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. The Harwood resident was 82.
The son of Richard G. Thomas Sr., a businessman, and Hattie V. Thomas, a homemaker, Richard Garnett Thomas Jr. was born in Anne Arundel County and raised in Harwood and Lothian.
"He was raised in a home that nurtured and inspired educational pursuits, excellence, high morals and service to others," said his sister, Dr. Thelma Thomas Daley of Baltimore, who had been counseling coordinator for Baltimore County public schools.
Dr. Thomas graduated from Bates High School in Annapolis in 1947 and was 19 when he earned his bachelor's degree in biology and pre-medicine from Lincoln University in Oxford, Pa.
Master's degrees followed from Colgate University and American University as well as a doctorate in education administration from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Dr. Thomas also held degrees in the fields of geology and geomorphology.
After teaching school in Calvert County for one year, he joined Baltimore County public schools in 1952 and taught science for 16 years at Sollers Point High School, Sudbrook Junior High School and Woodlawn Junior High School.
Dr. Thomas was one of two African-American teachers who had been selected to help integrate county public schools when he joined the faculty of Sollers Point, then an all-white high school.
He later integrated the staff at Sudbrook and Perry Hall junior high schools.
"This would have been 1954-1955 after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision," said Dr. Robert Y. Dubel, a longtime friend who headed Baltimore County public schools for 16 years before retiring in 1992.
"Dick was one of the leaders in this movement. And we depended on his advice as we went through the integration process that lasted through the 1960s," said Dr. Dubel. "I was always extremely impressed with him."
From 1967 to 1970, Dr. Thomas chaired the science department at Perry Hall Junior High School.
Dr. Joshua R. Wheeler who was appointed county school superintendent in 1970, promoted Dr. Thomas to be his administrative assistant that year.
When Dr. Thomas went to work for the superintendent, he joined a half-dozen other African-Americans who were on the staff at Greenwood, the Baltimore County public schools headquarters in Towson.
Asked if his appointment might have been racially motivated, Dr. Thomas told The Evening Sun, "Not at all, I'm very proud of my credentials, and I've always been able to work with people."
"I think we would be acting less than smart if we had a black-white student problem and did not take advantage of the opportunity to get a black man's opinion," Dr. Wheeler told The Evening Sun.
In addition to being in charge of Dr. Wheeler's appointments, Dr. Thomas was responsible for maintaining the school board's minutes and traveling throughout the country, recruiting talent for the school system.
"He was an extremely well-organized person who made lots of changes in the superintendent's office. Having Dick in the job was a no-brainer," said Dr. Dubel.
After leaving the superintendent's office in the mid-1970s, Dr. Thomas served as principal of Golden Ring Middle School and later became principal of Randallstown High School, where he ended his career when he retired in 1985.
"During his tenure, Randallstown was noted for its high expectations, outstanding student achievement, incredible athletic programs, the large number of Merit Scholars, and a positive learning and working environment," Dr. Daley said.
Throughout his career, Dr. Thomas "expected, modeled and inspired excellence. He encouraged dignity and respect for and among teachers, staff and students," she said. "He was no-nonsense, and there was no nonsense."
Dr. Thomas was also known for his "quiet, dignified, intellectual demeanor," his sister said, that "exuded quiet power and encouragement."
After he retired, Dr. Thomas worked as manager and co-owner of the Thomas Produce Market, a family-owned retail and wholesale establishment.
In 1952, he married Myra Hammond, a former teacher who later became the executive director of the educational material resource center at the U.S. Department of Education. She died in 2009.
In addition to being a world traveler, he was an inveterate reader and stamp and coin collector. He was also a sports car aficionado and owned and drove Triumphs and Porsche sports cars. He was a fan of Formula 1 auto races.