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Thomas W. ‘Tommy’ Winstead, a plastic packaging expert who worked with Head Skis, dies

During his career, Thomas Winstead was issued 210 patents.
During his career, Thomas Winstead was issued 210 patents.

Thomas W. “Tommy” Winstead, a plastic packaging expert who founded two companies and worked with Howard Head, founder of Head Skis, died Jan. 14 from complications of pneumonia and sepsis at Gilchrist Center Towson. The Blakehurst Retirement Community resident was 101.

“Tom Winstead was a tremendous person and a genius in what he did,” said Charles E. Busse of Hunt Valley, who was vice president of research and engineering at Maryland Cup Corp. from 1963 until 2004, when he retired. “He had numerous patents.”

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Thomas Williamson Winstead, son of William Henry Winstead, a Southern Maryland tobacco warehouse owner, and his wife, Helen Hope Privett, a homemaker and musician, was born in Baltimore and raised in the Orchards in North Baltimore.

A 1938 graduate of Gilman School, Mr. Winstead earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering in 1943 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He worked for old Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River and later for Higgins Industries in New Orleans. During the war years, he worked on vertical lift aircraft and developed a saltwater purification device that was deployed on many life rafts, family members said.

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While living and working in New Orleans, Mr. Winstead met and fell in love with the former Marion Legendre, a New Orleans native, whom he married in 1945.

At the end of World War II, the couple moved to Baltimore, where Mr. Winstead established the Hedwin Corp., a maker of plastic packaging, in 1946 in Medfield. In 1955 he invented the Cubitainer, a flexible packaging product that is still in use today.

An example of the Cubitainer is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which lists the item as the “Thomas W. Winstead Cubitainer Recessed Plug and Closure Containers.”

In 1958, he sold the business to Solvay Corp. and founded Thomas W. Winstead & Co., a Cockeysville developer and manufacturer of plastic and polystyrene extrusion equipment, and the Gulf States Plastic Corp., also in Baltimore. In 1966, he sold his interest in Gulf States Plastic to Gulf States Paper Corp. in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

“His work was primarily making continuous motion machines that had the advantage over intermittent motion machines,” Mr. Busse explained. “This was a major breakthrough offering high-speed production of packaging products, and this was the approach for the future.”

Mr. Busse described Mr. Winstead, who was known as “Tommy,” as a “gentleman in every respect with what he did, but he could be deliberately frustrating to some folks, but the final research always supported his approach.”

During his career, he worked with Howard Head, his MIT friend and Baltimore resident who was the founder of Head Skis. Mr. Head for a time operated his business in two garages in Medfield across from the Hedwin Corp. Mr. Winstead helped his friend with the lamination process for Head skis, family members said.

In 1978, Maryland Cup Corp. of Owings Mills acquired Thomas W. Winstead & Co. for $2.5 million, with Mr. Winstead staying on as a consultant until retiring in 1986.

During his tenure with Maryland Cup, the company was approached by Chinese officials who were taken with Mr. Winstead’s continuous motion machines and numerous patents.

“The representatives came to Baltimore because they believed this was the approach for the future. But it was too much for the company that was used to working with suppliers rather than an entire country, but it was really something for that to have occurred,” Mr. Busse said.

During his career, Mr. Winstead was issued 210 patents in his name both domestically and internationally.

“Dad’s passion was inventing machines and making them work,” said a son, David Winstead of Chevy Chase. “He liked inventing and tinkering with machines.”

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Mr. Winstead and his wife lived for 65 years on Overlook Lane in North Roland Park, near Boys’ Latin School, across the street from his sister, Elizabeth Jamieson “Libby” Rouse, who had been the wife of developer James W. Rouse. The couple later divorced.

In 2015, the Winsteads moved to the Blakehurst Retirement Community in Towson. Mrs. Winstead died in 2018.

After retiring, Mr. Winstead devoted his time and support to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

An inveterate tennis player, he continued playing with several high school classmates for over 70 years until finally retiring from the court at 96. He was a member of the Elkridge Club, where he founded the All Points of the Compass Tennis Tournament.

He and his wife traveled extensively and enjoyed spending summers at their Cotton Patch home in Bethany Beach, Delaware, August at New Hampshire’s Squam Lake and winters at the Mill Reef Club in Antigua, where they were members.

A fashionable dresser, Mr. Winstead was seldom seen without a “sporty bow tie,” family members said. His wife, an accomplished needleworker, fashioned bow ties from fabric she purchased on her world travels. They had a label that she sewed into them: “Ties By Tombowx.”

Mr. Winstead was described by his son, David, as being a “very disciplined guy.”

“He ate well and exercised well," he said. “He had these regular exercise routines he did in the ocean and later the Blakehurst pool. He was still playing golf and tennis until her was 96. He never smoked and was a moderate drinker who liked white zinfandel.”

Even though he had hearing issues in recent years, he was “still walking and engaging,” his son said.

A March 28 memorial gathering is private.

In addition to his son, he is survived by another son, Thomas “Tee” Winstead Jr. of Ruxton; five grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

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