2018-08-09 / Obituaries

Thomas Abbott Todd

Thomas Abbott Todd, FAIA, devoted and loving husband, father and friend of many, passed away June 14, 2018, after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Tom was a resident of Newfield House in Plymouth, Mass. at the time of his passing and previously was a longtime resident of Duxbury Mass., Jamestown and Philadelphia.

Tom was born May 5, 1928, in North Stonington, Conn. to James Arnold and Isabel Downs Todd. At an early age, his family relocated to the Philadelphia area, where he grew up and received his education. He graduated from Germantown Friends School in 1946 and obtained his Bachelor of Art History degree from Haverford College in 1950. He subsequently pursued a degree in architecture, graduating with honors from the University of Pennsylvania as an architect in 1959 and was awarded a Theophilus Parsons Chandler Architecture Fellowship that took him to Europe.

Prior to earning has master’s degree, Tom was employed at the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, and upon his return to Philadelphia from his traveling fellowship, he worked as a planner and designer for the University of Pennsylvania Planning Office. He then co-founded Grant & Todd, planning consultants. Project Architect positions at other area firms followed and in 1963, he was asked to join Wallace-McHarg Associates, where Tom soon became a full partner and the firm was renamed Wallace, McHarg, Roberts and Todd (WMRT), and ultimately, Wallace, Roberts and Todd (WRT), which continues.

To this day, the underlying beliefs and integrated practice that Tom helped shape at WRT hold great value for the talented professionals and aspirational clients drawn to the firm and the positive impact of their collective work is more relevant than ever.

Tom was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980. In 1991, he “retired” to Rhode Island, where he consulted professionally for many years. He was recognized as a leading architect, both locally, nationally and internationally, with strengths in design, landscape architecture, and city planning.

Throughout the course of his career, Tom had more than 65 projects both in the United States and abroad. His many notable achievements include the master plan for the Abuja, the Federal Capital of Nigeria, and the plan for the Inner Harbor of Baltimore. Landscape architecture projects for Battery Park in Manhattan and the U.S. Capitol Master Plan for Washington, D.C. are other highlights. Tom also was adept at designing modern single-family houses, of which he built three for his own. Recently, he was named one of the Pioneers of American Landscape Design by The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Tom met the love of his life, Carol Roberts, while they were both living at a co-op in the Powelton Village section of Philadelphia. When he had finally mustered the courage to request her hand, they were married in 1956 in a Quaker ceremony. Their first child, Chris, was born in 1957, and the births of his daughters, Suzy in 1960, and Cassie in 1962, completed the Todd household.

Tom loved being with his family best of all. The vacations to which he treated his wife and children ranged from simple overnight campouts on the Tohickon Creek, to sublime whitewater trips down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in wooden boats (twice!). These, along with car camping through the Canadian Maritime Provinces to the Viking digs in Newfoundland the day man landed on the moon, journeys to Europe and cruises to Alaska provided unforgettable family experiences and bonding.

As a young man, Tom developed a passion for art and history that would shape his personal and professional interests for the remainder of his life. Initially influenced by his father, a noted painter and sculptor, Tom became an exemplary and prolific painter in his own right, completing hundreds of canvases, watercolors and sketches during the course of more than 50 years. He showed his work in both public and private galleries, such as the Newport Art Museum in Rhode Island and the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia. His paintings adorn the walls of many friends, family and colleagues.

As a young man, he spent some school vacations with friends in Jamestown. Combined with the knowledge that some of his ancestors had been merchant sea captains, these visits laid the foundation for an intense interest in the sea along with a great fondness for Jamestown and Narragansett Bay. In Philadelphia, he joined the University Barge Club and enjoyed years in his single scull on the Schuylkill River. One of his paintings of Boat House Row hangs prominently in the Barge Club.

Tom loved to sail and in Rhode Island, he moored his 23-foot Ensign sailboat in the waters of Mackerel Cove off his shore-front home. He devoted many hours to the study of maritime history and investigated the family’s seafaring background. He acquired the plans for a clipper ship (Witch of the Wave) captained by John Emory Abbott Todd, and from these he built a 1:48 scale model from scratch, even hand “aging” the individual copper plates of the bottom. This was the first of several museum-quality ship models Tom produced. One of which — the frigate USS Constellation — is on display at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport. The Constellation had caught Tom’s interest when it had been made a focal point of the Baltimore Inner Harbor design. Also in Baltimore, he designed the large McKeldin fountain, built in 1982, which was part of the city’s inventory of public art.

The Todd house in Philadelphia, designed by Tom, built in the mid-1960s is in West Mount Airy. It was set on a large, beautifully landscaped lot with wide lawns and terraces filled with flowering and ornamental plants. The house itself, with its modern design and multilevel entertaining spaces became the frequent scene of cocktail and dinner parties with the large circle of friends and colleagues Tom and Carol had grown.

In Jamestown, Tom designed and built a house on Blueberry Lane, where the family summered for several years until a waterfront property on Mackerel Cove became available. On this wonderfully situated lot, with a large main house, he added an ample deck and a multi-story studio/ workshop/garage with signature slanted colored stripes on the doors, reminiscent of signal flags. A focal point of the grounds were the marvelous formal and informal gardens, with terraces and avenues that afforded delightful and surprising views of the property and cove.

When Tom retired from WRT in 1991, he and Carol moved permanently to their house in Jamestown. For nearly two decades, this house was a destination for their extended family and many dear friends. Whether simply stopping by for drinks on the deck, or spending weeks there, the warm welcome and fine company made visits with the Todd’s a highlight for all.

While discussions of art, history, politics and literature always were lively, a visit to the studio to view paintings or models in progress offered a glimpse of Tom’s latest projects. Tom’s love of art and history was matched by his passion for music. Exposed as a young man to J.S. Bach and Baroque music, he taught himself to play it on the piano, amassing a large collection of sheet music and orchestral scores.

Inspired to build himself a harpsichord and he learned to play that, too, ultimately purchasing several artisan-built, multi-keyboard versions of the instrument. Tom’s participation in the Germantown Friends School Choir in high school led him to be a member of various local choral groups all his adult life, enjoying the company and performances with gusto.

Tom made fast and lifetime friends everywhere he went. His wide and deep interests meant his companionship was always interesting. That, when combined with his wit, wisdom and kindness, meant Tom was a welcome addition to any gathering. He enjoyed a rich life and constantly was smiling and laughing. He loved bad jokes and good company. He loved quoting historical figures and translating common phrases into Latin. He considered everyone a peer and friend. He will be greatly missed.

Tom was preceded in death by his wife, Carol Roberts Todd, and his brother John Phillip Arnold Todd, also an architect of note.

He is survived by his sister, Stephanie Coggeshall, of Atlanta, and his children, Jonathan Christopher Todd, of Houston, Suzannah Elizabeth Arnold Todd Waters, of Norwell, Mass., and Cassandra Roberts Todd, of Oakland, Calif.; and grandchildren Samuel Sawyer Todd, of Houston, James Arnold Waters, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and William Waters and Cassandra Waters of Norwell.

A memorial service for will be conducted at 10 a.m. Oct. 27 at the Germantown Friends Meetinghouse, 47 W. Coulter St., Philadelphia.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association.

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