Thomas “Tom” Preston Crain, who taught physical education for nearly three decades and coached cross country, football and wrestling at Catonsville High School, died of pneumonia June 4 in hospice care at a private facility. He was 86.
“Any subject I had a question, I could ask my older brother Preston,” his brother William Crain said, referring to him by his middle name. “Tomatoes, home remedy, any medical question. He was well known in education.”
Mr. Crain, son of the late Edna and Theron Crain, both farmers, was born in Greer, South Carolina. He grew up on his family’s farm with nine siblings. It was on the farm that his first loves, nature and art, developed.
He attended Pleasant Hill Elementary School through the seventh grade and continued to Jordan High School.
He then enrolled in what was formerly known as North Greenville Junior College in Tigerville, South Carolina, before pausing his education to help his family with the farm and help his younger siblings get through school.
“They asked my mother how did she do that,” his brother said. “We saved up enough money for the first one to go to school and they paid it back.”
After helping out with his family, Mr. Crain earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology and physical education at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. During Mr. Crain’s time in school, he lived with his older brother, Edwin, who was pursuing his doctorate.
Mr. Crain started his education career teaching biology and physical education in Florida, but soon relocated to Maryland after visiting a friend. After applying to Baltimore County Public Schools, he was given the option to choose among five schools in the district. The nature surrounding Catonsville High grabbed his attention and he knew immediately that the school was the one, according to his wife, Sharon Crain.
Mr. Crain taught physical education at Catonsville High. He coached cross country, football and his favorite sport, wrestling.
Mr. and Mrs. Crain taught at Catonsville High together but were brought together through the arts.
The pair recognized each other at an antique art show and Mr. Crain sparked a conversation with his future wife.
“It was mesmerizing to see all his artwork,” she said, recalling when she first met him. “I couldn’t believe this [physical] education teacher and cross country coach also did [sculpting].”
Eventually, he recruited her to coach girls cross country despite encountering backlash from allowing girls to run with boys.
“Even though they couldn’t count [the girls] in their place, Tom said, ‘They’re running!’” she said. “We finally got a girls team within a year or two’s time. He fought for that.”
The couple began secretly dating, hiding their relationship from their students. The Crains legally married and later held their wedding ceremony after school in September 1976 at the Ellicott City Courthouse. After their ceremony, the two returned to coach cross country as if nothing happened, Mrs. Crain said.
He continued teaching at the high school until his retirement in 1992 — but his love of teaching didn’t stop there. Surrounding his home in Catonsville were many of his former students and their families. Throughout his retirement, he stayed connected to many of them, advising them in many areas such as family, nature and gardening. He also supported many of his students’ careers.
Lou Weinkam, who graduated from Catonsville High in 1981, was taught and coached in cross country by Mr. Crain. Mr. Weinkam said he felt honored when Mr. Crain later called him to be his personal attorney for his estate.
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“I wasn’t one of his best players, but he remembered me, and he remembered the details,” Mr. Weinkam said. “He didn’t play favorites. The players determined who was best to be on the relays or in any event. He was a no-nonsense kind of guy. I appreciated that he gave me a chance even though I probably was one of his lesser-talented players.”
Mr. Crain spent his retirement focusing on his other passions, such as helping many people discover their ancestry. He spent a lot of his time carving sculptures, furniture and knives out of wood, fallen animal horns and just about anything from nature, his wife said.
He often carved jewelry for his loved ones and sold some of his work. Mrs. Crain said he left her many pieces of jewelry and handmade decorations around the house. She said his artwork makes her feel as though he is still with her.
He was also an avid bird-watcher and could name any animal by their sound.
As an animal lover, Mr. Crain enjoyed caring for countless cats and dogs, especially his six chow chows. He also rescued injured, abandoned or lost wildlife. Channeling his love for nature, many of his works of art were inspired by his other passions: animals, the outdoors and mythology.
A private burial was held this month.
Mr. Crain is survived by his wife, Sharon Crain; his mother-in-law, Janet Harsher of Timonium; sisters Annie Lovetta Randall of Trenton, South Carolina, Judy Mae Hedgepeth of Bladenboro, North Carolina, and Sara Strickland, of Las Vegas; brothers Hugh Crain of Flat Rock, Alabama, Jerryl Crain of Gallatin, Tennessee, Edwin Crain of Conway, South Carolina, William Crain of Pembroke, North Carolina, and Robert Daniel “Danny” Crain of Greer; and many nieces and nephews. A brother, Armand Crain, predeceased him.
This article has been updated to clarify what subject Mr. Crain taught at Catonsville High School. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.