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Thomas Theophilus ‘TJ’ Jenkins, former City College art teacher and musician, dies

Thomas Theophilus “TJ” Jenkins organized trips for high school students to civil rights landmarks and museums in the South.
Thomas Theophilus “TJ” Jenkins organized trips for high school students to civil rights landmarks and museums in the South.

Thomas Theophilus “TJ” Jenkins, a retired Baltimore City College art teacher and musician who performed in Fells Point, died of a massive heart attack July 8 at UPMC Western Maryland Hospital. He was 69 and was living in LaVale near Cumberland.

He formerly resided in Mount Washington, Columbia and Windsor Mill.

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Born in East Orange, New Jersey, he was the son of Gloria Beatty, a registered nurse at what was then the Veterans Administration, and Thomas Lester Jenkins, a Western Electric Co. manager.

Mr. Jenkins, who came from a musical family, played in a rock band while in high school. He was the band’s singer and sang baritone.

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He was a 1969 graduate of East Orange High School and played on the school’s baseball team. He also sang in school productions.

He attended what was then Montclair State College and earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at Maryland Institute College of Art. He later received a master’s degree in education at what is now Towson University.

Mr. Jenkins worked at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in addictions treatment.

“TJ was curious, friendly and quite funny” said his wife, the former Susan Roberson. “He was active in the recovery community. His humor helped ease the process of meeting new people, even though he was naturally an introvert. He was private, but he pursued activities that required him to connect with others.”

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“He had a vivid imagination and he approached life with creativity,” his wife said.

Mr. Jenkins joined the faculty of City College, a high school, and taught art. In his free time, he painted in oils and mixed media at a studio in his home.

“He could spot kids who were in trouble,” his wife said. “He enjoyed teaching and looked out for students who were struggling with a structured academic program. He found ways for them to express themselves through art.”

She said Mr. Jenkins was a chaperone for an annual civil rights trip made by City students and those from other schools. The trip, made around the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, visited sites in the South. They traveled on a chartered bus.

“TJ was really into this tour,” his wife said. “He was proud of it. The event was well thought out and executed. For some of the students it was a life-changing experience and he liked being a part of it.”

She said he was part of the faculty leadership that took the students to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama and the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. They also walked the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

Mr. Jenkins was a blues singer and harmonica player. He belonged to a band, the Channel Cats, and often performed in Fells Point at the Cat’s Eye Pub and other venues. He was a member of the Baltimore Blues Society.

“TJ was creative and innovative, always eager to learn,” his wife said. “He shared his knowledge and skills generously with the spirit of improving the lives of others.”

Mr. Jenkins was also a member of the Allegany Arts Council and board member of Fort Recovery.

He was an avid gardener and filled his home backyard with tomatoes, squash and varieties of hot peppers. He cultivated varieties of sunflowers.

“He was always up for trying new varieties of plants given to him by family and friends,” his wife said.

He is survived by his wife of 16 years, the former Susan Roberson, a retired worker for the Maryland Behavioral Health Administration.

He is also survived by his brother, Kim Jenkins, of North Port, Florida; three sisters, Rebecca Douglas of Newark, New Jersey, Brenda Barnes of New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Barbara Johnson of Pageland, South Carolina; and nieces and nephews.

A memorial service was held in Cumberland on Saturday. A second memorial is planned for East Orange, New Jersey, on Aug. 13.

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