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C. Fraser Smith: Modell always looking, and finding, ways to connect

He was always looking for ways to connect.

Pilloried for leaving Cleveland, Art Modell brought his apparently natural inclination to be part of the life around him with him to Baltimore.

Modell, who died Thursday at age 87, was remembered as a caring and generous man who had become Citizen Modell.

“I just always found him to be a gentleman,” said state Sen. Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore. “He had a great spirit. He instilled his personality in his team. He was a community person.”

His Ravens, all but replacing the Colts in Baltimore lore, achieved an almost seamless merger with the city’s football-starved fans.

“I grew up without a team,” said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman. His father, local attorney Louis Jay Ulman, who sold programs at Memorial Stadium, was one of those Baltimore-area fans who could not let go of the Colts.

“He cried when the Mayflower vans pulled away with the team’s gear,” the younger Ulman said.

The county executive said all his friends became Redskins devotees. But that wasn’t possible in the Ulman household.

Modell understood.

In fact, he seemed to some in his new city as heartsick about the departure as his angry former supporters.

His feeling for people may have deepened, but it was nothing new.

Shannon Sharpe, the former Ravens tight end, said Modell knew the names of players on the practice squad, not just the stars, but the anonymous guys struggling to make it.

That same concern was evident even during the sometimes tense negotiations that brought his team to Baltimore, said John T. Willis, who was an aide to former Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Willis introduced Modell to a new barber — in Westminster, where the team practiced in the summer. Modell and the barber became fast friends. The barber went to Modell’s home when the owner wasn’t getting around as well.

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said Modell’s non-football contributions to Maryland were great.

“He wasn’t showy,” Gansler said, “but his contributions to the House of Ruth [a refuge for battered women] and other organizations were immense.”

According to a biography released by the Ravens, Modell “served on multiple civic, educational and charitable boards, but he was devoted to aiding those in need of medical care and helping institutions raise money to better good health. For 20 years, he served on the board of the famed Cleveland Clinic, serving seven (1988-1995) years as president. Recently, Art headed a $100 million Heart Institute Fund for the equally renowned Johns Hopkins Medicine. He and his wife Pat’s devotion and generosity to the arts is noted with the Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center [the Lyric] in downtown Baltimore.”

Baltimore and Cleveland are a lot alike, Gansler observed.

“Both cities embraced Modell, and he embraced them,” he said.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.