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William Donald Schaefer remembered as a giant of state, city politics

William Donald Schaefer, whose collective public service included nearly three decades as Baltimore mayor, Maryland governor and state comptroller, was memorialized Wednesday before an overflow crowd of former aides, dignitaries, politicians and the common folk at Old Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church downtown.

The two-hour funeral was filled with drama, reflection and gravitas — and was truly “Schaeferesque,” a term created to describe the city’s larger-than-life mayor who served from 1971 to 1986.

With poignant song by the Maryland State Boychoir and the Morgan State University Choir and an upright blessing by the Right Rev. Eugene Sutton, the Episcopal bishop of Maryland, it was a fitting tribute to the man who began his career on the Baltimore City Council in 1955 and rose to serve as state comptroller, leaving office in 2007 after being defeated in a re-election bid.

“He believed that the road to the future was always under construction,” said Kweisi Mfume, a former Maryland congressman who often butted heads with Schaefer while on the City Council when Schaefer was mayor.

Mfume delivered one of three eulogies before a crowd of nearly 900 inside the historic church on North Charles Street. Lainy Lebow-Sachs, Schaefer’s longtime aide, and U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski also delivered moving tributes to Schaefer.

Among dignitaries in the audience were Reps. Steny Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John P. Sarbanes; Gov. Martin O’Malley; Maryland Speaker of the House Michael E. Busch; Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

Former Maryland governors Marvin Mandel, Harry Hughes and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. sat together near the flag-draped casket.

“On the scroll of life, when we get to the name William Donald Schaefer, we stop and insert the words: ‘He played real hard. He made a difference,’” Mfume said.

Schaefer, a bachelor, died April 18 following a period of declining health. He was 89 and had lived out his final years in a Catonsville retirement community with his cat, Willie.

Earlier this week, his casket was placed in the rotunda of the Maryland State House for a public viewing, followed by a drive back through his hometown. His casket stopped at several landmarks as crowds of hundreds waved, blew kisses and offered gratitude for his years of service.

‘One of us’

Mfume said he came to know Schaefer as a shy man, and saw him cry bitterly twice — the day after the Colts left the city under darkness of night for Indianapolis, and at the funeral of his mother, Tululu Schaefer.

“He opened himself up in a way that made those who were paying attention realize that his heart was as big as this church,” he said. “He was different things to different people, but one thing he was, he was a stalwart in the storm.”

Mikulski also eulogized Schaefer as a nemesis who later became a close ally. She said recent memorial tributes were fitting for a man whose mayoral years were spent constantly attending church suppers, walking through communities inspecting streets and alleyways, sitting on marble stoops listening to complaints and asking, “How can I help?”

“He was one of us and he knew it,” Mikulski said. “He did know Baltimore. He did know its people. He did know its neighborhoods. He was 100 percent Baltimore.”

Once she was elected to Congress, Mikulski said Schaefer told her “to bring bucks to Baltimore — and remember the buck stops here and the more the better.”

“He gave us a new sense of confidence,” she said, of the city’s renaissance directed by Schaefer in the continuation of the rebuilding of the downtown core and the redevelopment of the Inner Harbor 30 years ago. That followed urban destruction stemming from race riots in 1968.

“Schaefer would not want us to dwell on the past,” she added. “He would want us to ask, ‘What are we going to do tomorrow? What are you going to do to help somebody today?’ ”

‘Do It Now’

Lebow-Sachs, who was an aide and confidant to Schaefer for more than three decades, said Schaefer’s “Do It Now” maxim is legendary among his loyal staffers — called “Schaeferites” — who, she said, often suffered through cabinet meetings as he blasted them during temper tantrums because of flaws in city government.

“I remember a cabinet meeting when he came in the room with that look on his face and stood there jingling change in his pockets, looking out the window,” she said. “Then he left.”

Another time, Lebow-Sachs said, Schaefer drove past an employee of the former Chesapeake Restaurant picking up trash in the street in front of the establishment.

“He was very surprised the following week when he was called to the cabinet meeting and was presented with an ‘Eagle’ award,” she said, of the in-house recognition Schaefer created for civic pride.

Of her notoriously thin-skinned boss, Lebow-Sachs detailed how Schaefer once responded to a note of criticism from a constituent by responding in writing: “I hope you’re feeling better after your lobotomy.”

She ticked off a list of words describing her former boss, including caring, visionary, magnetic, persevering, tough, tender, difficult.

“And let’s just say complicated,” she said, “While he may not have had a traditional family, his non-traditional family was immense. We truly were his children. He scolded us, yelled at us, encouraged us and sent us to our room. If you had one shred of untapped potential, he pulled it out of you.”

A love for Baltimore

Lebow-Sachs said Schaefer’s one true love was the city where he was born and raised. He continued to live in a modest row house on the West Side, even shunning taking up quarters in the elaborate governor’s mansion in Annapolis for eight years.

“Baltimore was a favorite child,” she said, adding Schaefer was being buried wearing his favorite Baltimore-themed tie held steady by a Maryland tie clip. “If you dared talk bad about Baltimore, he’d go nuts.”

The funeral was a vivid reminder of Schaefer’s dedication to details. In a homily, former Schaefer staffer Luther Starnes, a Methodist minister, said Schaefer had a “simple religious faith that he didn’t talk about a lot in public.”

Once as governor, Schaefer was asked to speak at a prayer breakfast at the U.S. Naval Academy. That same morning, Starnes said, an article in The Sun questioned whether religion had “tainted” him.

“He got up and said, ‘I know Christians are supposed to love everybody. But I hate that [reporter] from the Baltimore Sun.’ Then he sat down. That was it,” Starnes said.

Mfume also touched on Schaefer’s irascible personality. He described an early career of constant bickering between the two in City Hall, before they buried the hatchet over breakfast one day in a small hotel café outside the city.

“He called me Councilman Muffin and I called him Mayor So-What,” Mfume said. “Like two fighters, we were in a ring together.

“No one irritated me more than him and no one irritated him more than me — except Parris Glendening,” Mfume said, a punch line aimed at Schaefer’s successor in the governor’s office, who often annoyed Comptroller Schaefer while the two served on the Board of Public Works. Glendening did not attend the funeral.

Outside the church, a procession stretching nearly a mile long proceeded toward Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium, Schaefer’s final resting place.

“He used to send me a birthday card every year,” said Charles Toy, Schaefer’s former neighbor on Edgewood Street, who attended the funeral.

Alice Hazard, a city resident, also waved goodbye as the hearse drove off from Old Saint Paul’s Church.

“He was still the same person — some people, when they get in that position, it changes them,” she said, of Schaefer’s years as governor, from 1987 to 1995. “It didn’t change him.”

4 comments

  1. When others failed, he put bread on my table with an altered retirement to be corrected.

    The Honorable William Donald Schaefer, never to be matched.I thank you my friend.

    Dorothy C. Joyner
    Dorothy Corry Jennings

  2. The Honorable William Donald Schaefer

    Often,Many Times,I Will Remember

    One call to him provided instant assistance.

    Through his Assistants,Mr.Luther Starnes for one of
    many; Sara…sent kind and thoughtful cards.
    He sent me flowers.
    Outward expressions did not always reflect the
    inner depth of his caring,his soul.
    He had a special human way of reaching, performing
    and finalizing…Leadership At Its Best.

  3. Website ..You may also enter by name Dorothy Corry Jennings

    Encouragement from the Honorable William Donald Schaefer

    Unsettling circumstances that made no sense to Mr.Schaefer
    encouraged me to run for office.I did.His clairing call througout the city was Where Is The Redhead?
    One single letter created a mass of confusion. That letter was this: The Superintendent has recommended that you be terminated from the Baltimore Public School system. Reason..willful neglect to return to duty.

    Three Truths:1.I did return to duty.
    2. The Superintendent was not in town to sign.
    3. I was on Worker’s Compensation.Still Open)isi
    Mr. Schaefer and others could not understand how such a
    charge could explode into actions beyond human sensibility.
    I wonder if he knew there was room for more inhumane acts?

    There is special place in Batimore where he can be remembered. I hope to see it throuh.

  4. The Honorable William Donald Schaefer

    His Strengths To Connect

    His Will,Determination, Desire was carried form State to Federal,thus became the most powerful Landmark Case of the 20th.21st Century: Leave No Child Behind Reform Act
    Pub L 107-110
    Confirmation: No Chold Left Behind- George W. Bush