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Baltimore says goodbye to William Donald Schaefer

The city streets began to fill with mourners and those with signs saying “Thank you” and “Rest in Peace” one hour before the motorcade arrived in Baltimore from the State House in Annapolis.

At Lexington Market, two tables held a pair of baskets decorated with delicate purple African violets, ribbons and a purple butterfly with a card of gratitude. The baskets were sitting on Paca Street at the entrance to the market awaiting the hearse.

“Mayor Schaefer loved the market,” said one woman. “These are for him.”

In front of the Hippodrome Theatre, a small group of people gathered to wait to say farewell to the man who served four terms as mayor of Baltimore, two as governor of Maryland and two as state comptroller.

In Little Italy, parking on Eastern Avenue was prohibited as restaurant owners and tourists spending Easter Monday mingled through the community.

The procession was led by a police escort of nearly two dozen motorcycles. First came a black limousine from Ruck Funeral Home, with a somber driver chauffeuring an inflatable Donald Duck toy placed alone in the back seat.

That set the tone for the hearse, which followed, as onlookers cheered, saluted, hollered “Thank You” and blew kisses. Following the hearse were two other limos filled with Schaefer’s closest friends and former aides, who stopped and got out at certain points to greet the crowd, offer gratitude and smile at the celebration of a life well lived.

The motorcade wound its way through the city at near precision based on a tight time schedule drawn up late last week.

In the eastern rim of the Inner Harbor, past Harbor East where Schaefer had leaned on bakery mogul John Paterakis to develop a once-forgotten strip of land into the city’s new gold coast, the Schaefer funeral procession was given full berth along a cleared Eastern Avenue.

At 4:47 p.m. the motorcade made its way down Broadway toward the town square in Fells Point — where Schaefer had breakfast regularly at Jimmy’s restaurant, often with Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

“Thank You, Schaefer,” Mikulski called out, as the hearse passed by Jimmy’s, then stopped for a meet-and-greet complete with former Press Secretary Michael Golden leading nearly 200 onlookers in a “Hip-Hip Hooray!” cheer and the song “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.”

One couple held a vintage Schaefer campaign poster that read: “Real Leadership. Real Results.”

“He was one of a kind — a Baltimore original,” Mikulski said, holding a vintage poster of a successful community uprising over a planned 1965 elevated highway extension of Interstate 83 to link it to Interstate 95 through the heart of Fells Point.

Nearly 10 minutes later, the stop was over and the entourage and casket was heading north on Broadway toward downtown and City Hall, where Schaefer’s body will lie in state all day Tuesday.

“I think he did a lovely job,” said Mary Lewis, 76, who lives in the city and caught a ride to the event from her friend, Eunice Williams, 84.

“He’s going to be one of the greatest mayors in history,” Williams said.

Today, I feel like I want to cry.”

Just beyond the outfield of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a clapping crowd of about 100 greeted the procession, and cheered “Go Schaefer” minutes later as it drove off.

While governor, Schaefer shepherded development of the stadium complex that now houses Baltimore’s major professional sports teams.

“None of us would have been here, where we’re standing, without his insistence that people take their charge as public servants seriously,” said U.S. Rep. John P. Sarbanes, standing in a plaza dotted with memorials to Orioles greats.

Sarbanes said he was on his way from his office in Towson to a meeting near the airport when he stopped to catch a glimpse of the motorcade.

“You want to be part of this outpouring of respect for one of the greatest leaders not just for Baltimore, but the entire state of Maryland,” Sarbanes said.

The congressman, whose first year in office — 2007 — was the first of Schaefer’s retirement, recalled the “constructive showmanship” that drew attention to his projects and the impatience that got them done.

“It was a good impatience that made people pay attention to the task at hand.”

Joe Vega considers himself “part of the legacy of William Donald Schaefer.” Vega grew up blocks from Memorial Stadium and works as an elevator operator in Camden Yards.

He stood Monday, waiting for the procession outside the baseball stadium within view of the light rail and convention center, both of which Schaefer helped bring to downtown.

“If it weren’t for Mr. Schaefer, Camden Yards wouldn’t exist right now,” Vega said. “The Orioles would be somewhere else in the country right now, and we wouldn’t have the Baltimore Ravens.

“I’m sure going to miss the ol’ fella,” Vega said. “He had character. I love characters.”

Members of Schaefer’s procession were presented with flowers, wreaths and an oversized baseball printed with the figure $137,550,000 — the amount of the state bonds issued in 1989 to build Camden Yards.

The procession was “a fitting tribute” to the man who was “instrumental in having built” the park, said Louis Angelos, son of Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos.

Jon Meyer moved to the state in 1986 to take a job with CSX Corp. at its offices in Charles Center, a redevelopment project spearheaded by Schaefer during his time as mayor.

“I just have so much respect for him, for what he did, for the city, and ultimately, the state,” said Meyer, who watched the motorcade roll by after exchanging tickets at the Orioles will call window. “He was a power to be reckoned with.”

And four years ago, Meyer moved from his home in Annapolis to a revitalized neighborhood in the city.

“The fact we moved into Canton, I can attribute as a direct result of what [Schaefer] did for the city,” Meyer said.

The procession was given a three-gun salute from the Pride of Baltimore II as it pulled up beside Harborplace, the plaza and shopping pavilion development championed by Schaefer.

Hundreds gathered, many snapping pictures on cell phones as tributes were laid at the feet of the statue of the former mayor.

Members of the city’s Office of Promotion and the Arts brought along a replica of the statue of the man who founded the agency’s predecessor in 1977, and a poster depicting 30 years of Artscape, which Schaefer started in 1982.

“He just got Baltimore going,” said Beau Seidel, a Federal Hill resident. His home is close to a block of rowhomes the city sold for $1 apiece under Schaefer’s watch to encourage revitalization of downtrodden neighborhoods.

“He had a sense of humor, too,” said Seidel’s wife, Vicky. “How can you forget jumping in the seal pool?”

A former bellhop, she recalled often seeing Schaefer at a downtown hotel where he held official meetings during his time as mayor.

“They’d want to pick him up in a limousine and he’d say ‘No, I’m walkin’,” Seidel said. “You would always see him walking back to City Hall on Baltimore Street. He was just that kind of guy.”

One comment

  1. I worked for the Housing authority in the eighties and was ask to represent authority at a community meeting. never sweated so much when I had to speak and saw Billy D sitting out there. Knowing I had not mess up.
    Few years later running into him ,as we glance at each other, I knew he remembered and slight smile as to say good job…He was Good!

    Billy D was my own personal moniker for him.