Thomas A. Tharp, 80, a General Tire and Rubber Co. lobbyist and owner of specialty stores in Washington, Annapolis and St. Michaels, Md., died of a cerebral hemorrhage Oct. 13 at Easton (Md.) Memorial Hospital.
As president of the Washington Rubber Group in 1961, Mr. Tharp worked on Aerojet-General's early contracts with NASA. That business identified a substance used as a critical insulator for the rocket on the Mercury spacecraft in which astronaut John Glenn orbited the Earth in 1962. His contribution earned Mr. Tharp a place on the launch platform with President John F. Kennedy.
Born in Lima, Ohio, he enlisted in the Army after high school. He served first at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he helped rehabilitate soldiers wounded in World War II. He led a baseball team of disabled soldiers who played exhibition games to show the disabled what they could accomplish. This brought him to the attention of senior officers, and he served on the personal staff of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in Coral Gables, Fla., in 1945 and 1946.
He graduated from Miami University with a degree in business in 1950 and joined Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in Akron, Ohio, as an executive management trainee.
In 1956, Mr. Tharp went to work for General Tire & Rubber Co. and moved to Bethesda. In 1968, he became vice president and director of General Tire's government relations office. In that job, he once was detained by Moscow police while trying to leave after a business trip. His family said that he was released 24 hours later, after giving up his camera. Several months later, one of his photos appeared on the cover of Soviet Life magazine. He joked that he didn't know whether to ask for royalties or for a free subscription.
In 1975, Mr. Tharp formed an international government relations company, TAT International, in New York and Washington, which he operated for four years.
Mr. Tharp and Elizabeth Mize co-owned the gift shop Mole Hole of Georgetown. In 1983, he moved to Annapolis after the pair bought the Sign of the Whale, a store that specialized in tableware, kitchen and garden items, in the historic old Customs House. They continued to operate the shop when it moved three years ago to St. Michaels.
Mr. Tharp enjoyed hunting, golfing, fishing, boating and tennis. A lifelong active Republican, he was the national coordinator for the Congressional Reform Committee under the auspices of the Republican National Committee in 1976. He was a member of the University Club and Engineers Club in New York and Kenwood Golf & Country Club in Bethesda. He was a founding member of the International Club of Washington.
His marriage to Marmian Williams Tharp ended in divorce.
Survivors include three children, Lisa C. Tharp of Rehoboth Beach, Charles Tharp of Baltimore and T.A.D. Tharp of McLean; and a sister.