M. Thomas Goedeke, 81, the retired superintendent of Howard County schools who was credited with maintaining and improving schools at a time when the county began to feel the first effects of fringe suburban development, died of cancer Jan. 3 at the Broadmead retirement community in Cockeysville.

Dr. Goedeke had been the acting superintendent of Baltimore public schools when in 1968 he was selected as Howard County's chief of public education. About that time, James W. Rouse began construction on his dream of a new city, Columbia, which was to be a racially integrated suburb.

The experimental planned city lured young couples with young children and altered the county's traditional rural school system. The influx of residents led to a rash of new schools in the late 1960s and created an urgent need for extra staff and infrastructure.

During his 16-year stewardship, Dr. Goedeke worked closely with the school board and Howard County government officials as the number of Howard County elementary, middle and high schools increased from 21 to 49.

A World War II veteran and former Eagle Scout and elementary school teacher, he came across as straight-laced and easy-going, which were important characteristics to have as the county outgrew its small, rural suburban school system, according to colleagues.

He also oversaw the desegregation of schools, increased the number of course offerings, updated academic equipment and established a foundation for the county's highly touted school system, said Fred K. Schoenbrodt, past president of the Howard County school board.

Dr. Goedeke retired in 1984 and served on the boards of several organizations, including what is now CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and the Mount St. Joseph's High School in Irvington, Md.

A native of Baltimore, he received a teaching certificate from what is now Towson State University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland. He received a master's degree in education from Johns Hopkins University and a doctorate in education administration from George Washington University.

He began his career as a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher and school counselor in Baltimore.

During World War II, he served as a pilot in the Army Air Forces and flew planes across the Atlantic. He also piloted routes in South America and Africa.

Survivors include his wife, Gertrude Goedeke of Cockeysville; two sons, M. Thomas Goedeke III of Baltimore and Eric William Goedeke of Phoenix; a brother, Frank Goedeke of Phoenix, Md.; a sister, Eleanor Zimmerman of Rockville; and three grandchildren.