Theodore R. Laster jr., a Harvard-trained lawyer, veteran real estate agent in Baltimore City’s comptroller’s office and an activist, died Sept. 6 from complications of prostate cancer at his Gwynn Oak home. He was 67.
“Ted was near and dear to all of the people he worked with and was exceptional with them," said Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt. “He was an extremely thoughtful person who had an incredible and analytical mind. He was a team player who shared his wisdom. He was generous and compassionate and will be greatly missed.”
Walter J. Horton, a real estate officer in the city comptroller’s office, worked closely with Mr. Laster and was a longtime friend.
“The city was the most important thing to him, and he always put the city first,” Mr. Horton said. “The relationship we had turned into a real friendship. He had a tremendous sense of vision, and he was looking down the road before folks even thought about doing things. I don’t know how we’ll fill his shoes.”
Theodore Roosevelt Laster Jr. son of Theodore R. Laster Sr., a laborer, and his wife, Hannah Laster, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Calverton Heights. When he was 6 years old, his mother died and his father married Blanche Laster, who helped raise him.
Mr. Laster was enrolled in the Polytechnic Institute’s "A" course, from which he graduated in 1971.
“I got to know him when I was on the cross country team at Poly and Ted was the manager,” said Greg Countess, a classmate who remained best friends with Mr. Laster through the years.
“Ted had major back surgery when he was in the ninth grade, but even though he was in a body cast he still managed to keep up with his 'A' course studies," he said. "He was a very, very smart man who was very friendly to all those he met. He was just a good man.”
He added: “He came from West Baltimore and shared the same stories as many of us shared in West Baltimore during the 1960s and 1970s.”
After graduating from Poly, Mr. Laster began his college studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, from which he graduated in three years with a bachelor’s degree in history and was an honors graduate. He was also one of the first African Americans to receive the H.C. Byrd Award from the university.
While at College Park, he established the Black Honors Caucus. “The caucus recruited Black students to the program and pressured the honors program to make its courses available to students not in the program,” a daughter, Verlinda A. Taylor of Aberdeen, wrote in a biographical profile of her father. “One of those classes, which he co-taught, was Institutional Racism in America.”
As a member of the caucus, he planned and arranged a 1973 concert at College Park that featured the Jackson Five. Money raised from the concert and subsequent concerts with noted African American artists funded a speaker series that brought prominent Black leaders to campus.
After graduating from Maryland, Mr. Laster began law school studies at Harvard, from which he earned his law degree in 1977 and where he served as president of the Harvard Black Law Students Association. He was also president of the Civil Liberties-Civil Rights Law Review and vice president of the Harvard Law School Forum.
Mr. Laster worked in land acquisition for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, according to Mr. Horton, and then in 1996 joined Baltimore City government as a business assistance coordinator, working with merchant associations in various sections of the city promoting business districts.
“We had traveled similar paths in land acquisition, and that’s how I got to know Ted in the ’80s,” Mr. Horton said.
In 1987, Mr. Laster was involved with Struever Brothers, Eccles and Rouse in developing a $3.4 million shopping center bounded by Ashland Avenue and North Bond, North Caroline and Eager streets, in a joint effort with Bethel Holy Tabernacle, East Baltimore Deliverance Church, Faith Baptist Church and Friendship Baptist Church, that was named Church Square Shopping Center.
From 1998 to 2004, Mr. Laster was economic development coordinator for the Northwest Baltimore Corp., a nonprofit community services group that supported revitalization of the Pimlico business district, while working closely with Pimlico Race Course and Sinai Hospital.
He was a real estate supervisor with the city’s housing department from 2004 to 2006, responsible for the planning, sale and development of large city-owned properties.
In 2007, he joined the comptroller’s office and over the next four years was responsible for overseeing and directing all cell tower leases on city-owned property, drafting correspondence, visiting sites, and negotiating new contracts with private property owners. Other duties entailed negotiating new leases for cell companies or licences for such companies to use city-owned property.
“He had great abilities in negotiating and he dove into this stuff,” Mr. Horton said. “He was a stalwart when it came to knowing the FCC and telecommunication rules. He led the charge on this.”
Mr. Laster’s last assignment, which began in 2011, was as a real estate agent in the comptroller’s office, developing a database of properties in the city’s inventory, continuing to manage lease agreements with telecommunication companies and the sale of city-owned vacant properties. He often appeared before the Board of Estimates to comment and review items before the board.
“Ted brought a lot to the comptroller’s office,” Ms. Pratt said. “He had an eye for making deals better for the city, and in all cases they were. He wanted to make sure that all deals were in the best interest of the city and had a passion for knowledge that was beneficial to it.”
“He was very, very fair and objective and made sure the city was always getting a fair deal,” said Arthur Gray, who worked with Mr. Laster and is now retired from the city Department of Housing and Community Development, where he was supervisor.
Mr. Laster had an insatiable desire for letting staff members know about was pertinent to their work. “Every morning when I came in, he’d have printed copies of articles ready for me,” Ms. Pratt said.
He had not retired at his death.
“Even though he was still recovering from recent surgery, he wanted to come back to work, even though the doctors said it was too early,” Ms. Pratt said. “But there he was still calling in on the phone and giving advice. He was certainly one of a kind.”
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Laster is survived by a son, Theodore R. Laster III of Gwynn Oak; another daughter, Tristyn Graham of Essex; five grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews. Two earlier marriages ended in divorce.