Francis X. (Frank) Pugh, a legend in the Maryland Attorney General’s Office for more than 30 years, died on July 17. Everyone who knew Frank Pugh feels the loss. To say Frank’s name is to remember his smile and to remember how he always made us laugh. Frank Pugh was simply one of the nicest, kindest, and funniest people to walk this earth. And he was a terrific lawyer.
Frank served as principal counsel of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. In that capacity, he represented DLLR and ultimately the people of Maryland with distinction, humility, and boundless good humor. Governors, attorneys general, and secretaries of DLLR came, served, and left while Frank remained. He provided all of them and many others with his wise counsel and his deeply thoughtful perspective.
Frank’s professional career was marked by numerous high-profile matters. His steady hand guided state officials through innumerable difficult controversies, everything from horse racing to insurance with much in between.
There was, however, one critical moment when Frank’s unique gifts were most needed and most visibly on display. That moment was the state’s savings and loan crisis, which began in May 1985.
For those who do not recall those times or are too young to have any memory of them, some brief background. Maryland had a system of state-chartered and privately insured savings and loan institutions. The practices of a number of the largest of these S&Ls were aggressive, to say the least, and the regulatory framework and oversight had not kept pace. When the bubble popped, there was a classic “run on the bank.” Literally hundreds of depositors lined up outside savings and loans in Baltimore and elsewhere trying to withdraw their deposits.
There was legal activity on multiple fronts. The governor twice called the General Assembly into special session to address the crisis, and there was a raft of civil and some criminal litigation.
In the end, the depositors were paid, the system was reformed, and the losses to the state were minimized. Frank Pugh played a large role in all of this. He helped state officials to navigate through the legal, political, and public relations morass. Frank’s role included conceptualizing and drafting the statutes which the General Assembly enacted.
Frank was also a teacher. For many years, he was in charge of the paralegal program at Villa Julie College, now Stevenson University. He was responsible for training hundreds of paralegals. When he retired from teaching, the school named a courtroom in his honor.
After retiring from the Attorney General’s Office, Frank worked for 10 years as a mediator. He was uniquely well suited for this work. Frank Pugh was about solving problems, not fighting about them; he wanted to help people find what they had in common, not what placed them at odds.
We smile when we say the name “Frank Pugh” because humor was the lens through which Frank saw the world. He found his material everywhere. Frank’s humor was based on irony and irreverence without being tinged by meanness or anger. Frank made even the non-funny funny. Frank’s AG Office colleagues looked forward to his returning to the office after one of his visits to court or to the General Assembly. Without much prompting, Frank would regale those assembled with hilarious stories. His “war stories” contained enough grains of truth to be both funny and instructive.
Frank was called upon often to serve as an after dinner “roaster” and in other ceremonial roles. When “roasting” a departing deputy attorney general, for example, he remarked that while some kids dream of being a baseball player, a fireman, or a doctor, the departing deputy had dreamed of being a “holder in due course.”
For reasons still unknown, one of Frank’s ceremonial responsibilities was obtaining the birthday cake for the annual party for Attorney General Francis B. Burch. When it came time to present the cake, he would, without fail, tell the Attorney General and a room full of others that he had arrived at the bakery too late to obtain a proper cake with the Attorney General’s name on it. He explained that he had to take what was left and he then proceeded to present the Attorney General of Maryland with a birthday cake reading “Bon Voyage Tillie and Fred” or something equally inapt.
Frank was well known and highly respected in the General Assembly. Nevertheless, legislative actions did not escape his wit. Frank once dubbed a law enacted in the 1980’s the “Rude Teller Law.” This law allowed out-of-state banks to open a single branch in Maryland while requiring that they be operated in a manner “that is not likely to attract customers” from in-state banks. Frank thus opined that to comply with the law the out-of-state branches would have to be staffed by “rude tellers.” Apparently unfamiliar with Frank’s humor, the publishers of the Maryland Code included the title “Rude Teller Law” in the index.
For much of Frank’s tenure in the Attorney General’s Office, his office was in a building on St. Paul Street in Baltimore which continued to have elevator operators long after this practice ceased in other buildings. Frank Pugh always spoke politely, respectfully, and with interest to the people operating the elevators.
To Frank’s family, we extend our deepest sympathies. We were privileged to work with and laugh with your remarkable husband, father, brother and grandfather. We and others who were similarly privileged were enriched by Frank because he was so good at what he did and because he made it all so much fun.
Judge Diana G. Motz sits on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Robert A. Zarnoch sits on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. Ralph S. Tyler is a partner at Venable LLP.