Thomas Donaldson, educator, administrator and sailing enthusiast, dies

Thomas Donaldson had careers as an educator and government administrator and was a sailing enthusiast.

Thomas Donaldson, who had careers as an educator and government administrator and was a sailing enthusiast, died May 8 of complications from dementia at the Stoddard Baptist Nursing Home in Washington.

The former Roland Park resident was 94.


The son of the Rev. Thomas Donaldson Sr., an Episcopal minister, and Mary Randolph Harrison Donaldson, a homemaker, Thomas Donaldson was born in Baltimore and raised here and Centreville, Queen Anne's County, where his father was rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church. He also spent time in Columbus, Ohio.

After graduating in 1940 from St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Del., he enrolled at the University of Virginia. In 1942, he received his draft notice.


"The son of a pacifist, he at first registered as a conscientious objector, but then agreed to serve in a nonmilitary role in the Army ... as an American Field Service ambulance driver," wrote his daughter, Mary R. "Polly" Donaldson of Washington, in a biographical profile of her father.

"He served for three years in Italy, behind the front lines at a POW hospital near Naples," wrote Ms. Donaldson, who is director of the Department of Housing and Community Development in Washington.

After the end of World War II, Mr. Donaldson returned to the University of Virginia and in 1947 earned a bachelor's degree in geology.

Yearning to return to Europe, he enrolled in a master's of social work program at the University of Zurich under the GI Bill of Rights.

"One impressionable work assignment was in Germany at a Lutheran World Relief refugee center helping to resettle families in postwar Europe," said Ms. Donaldson.

His daughter said in an interview that he wanted to pursue the "bohemian life," and after leaving Zurich in 1948, he roamed across Europe and North Africa for five years.

He traveled to New York City in 1953 to visit his sisters. While there, he met and fell in love with one of their roommates, Jane Stuart Bankier, whom he married in September 1953.

The couple came to Baltimore and settled in Reservoir Hill. Mr. Donaldson found work as a surveyor for an engineering firm, then moved to York, Pa., where he taught high school science from 1957 to 1958 at York Country Day School.


In 1958, he moved to Cambridge, Mass., where he enrolled at Harvard University and obtained a master's degree in education as "part of the Sputnik-era science teachers training program," his daughter said.

After leaving Cambridge, Mr. Donaldson moved to Rider Avenue in Riderwood. He lived there from 1959 to 1970, then moved to Woodlawn Road and later Wickford Road in Roland Park.

He taught science at Boys' Latin School from 1961 to 1964, then joined the faculty of Oldfields School in Glencoe, where he taught for two years.

In 1966, he took a position as assistant professor of history and government at the University of Baltimore. While teaching there, he earned a second master's degree in the liberal arts program at the Johns Hopkins University.

In 1971, Mr. Donaldson joined Maryland government as an administrator in the Department of Human Resources and wrote departmental regulations.

He retired in 1986.


His wife, who had been librarian at St. Timothy's School in Stevenson, died in 1975.

A year later, he married the former Margery Smith Elmendorf, also an administrator in the Department of Human Resources. After his wife's death in 1993, he moved aboard his 34-foot sailboat, the Tabula Rasa — a Latin expression meaning "a lack of preconceived ideas or a blank slate."

Family members said in many ways, the ship's name reflected Mr. Donaldson's life and beliefs.

He sailed the Tabula Rasa between Baltimore and Melbourne, Fla., for the next 12 years until 2005, when he moved to Washington to be closer to family.

He was a member of the Potapskut Sailing Association, Magothy River Sailing Association and the Midget Ocean Racing Club.

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Ms. Donaldson described her father as a "bon vivant and free spirit who was politically liberal, but also a devotee of longtime Baltimore traditions as a member of the Bachelors Cotillon and an annual attendee of the Maryland Hunt Cup."


He volunteered at his children's schools and was active in the neighborhood associations where he lived. Mr. Donaldson was one of the leaders of the Ruxton Discussion Group, a monthly dinner-speaker series that considered local, national and international issues.

He was a former communicant of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Ruxton.

"My father wanted to be remembered as someone who tried to help people throughout his life," his daughter said.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. June 4 at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, 1830 Connecticut Ave. NW, in Washington.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Donaldson is survived by three sons, Thomas Donaldson III of Pittsburgh, Dougal Stuart Fawkes Donaldson of Fort Collins, Colo., and Andrew Bankier Donaldson of Bloomsbury, N.J.; a stepdaughter, Julia O. Elmendorf of Norris, Tenn.; a sister, Ann Warfield Donaldson Tamlyn of New York City; and three grandchildren.