Ecker Team Leaders Not Two Peas In A Pod Davis Nearly Unknown, Wilhide In Limelight

November 18, 1990|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

County Executive-elect Charles I. Ecker's two top advisers -- people now heading his transition team and who may play key administration roles -- are as different as . . . Dundalk and Annapolis.

Michael William Davis, 39, -- an Annapolis native -- had been living in Columbia in relative anonymity. During the campaign, he was the dapper dresser who seemed always to be in the background with Ecker, but never said anything -- kind of like a Secret Service man.

At Ecker's public appearances, Davis began looking like someone people should, but couldn't quite, recognize. "Who's the guy close to Ecker?" they asked.

No such questions were needed for Beverly Marsh Wilhide, a 54-year-old Ellicott City businesswoman with a reputation for public service.

What she and Davis have in common is that a year ago, neither knew Charles Ecker. For all three, this was their first foray into politics. All three were draftees.

Wilhide, who grew up in Dundalk, is comfortable in the limelight, although she does not seek it. From the time she was editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper until now, she has been at the center of everything she puts her mind to.

Despite winning a scholarship, she was financially unable to attend college. She worked instead in the secretarial pool for the American Smelting and Refining Co. in Dundalk. Within six months, she had become the company's chief executive secretary.

Meanwhile, she worked as a model, singer and tap and modern jazz dancer during off-hours, performing with local orchestras and society bands. In 1960, she won the Miss Baltimore County beauty pageant.

Her penchant for volunteering revealed itself early. She got the bands and other performers to form a volunteer entertainment troupe, putting on shows for area military bases.

She says her "big break" came in 1959 when she was invited to audition for a national refrigerator commercial. She held that job for a year-and-a-half. Then at age 24, she met and married Leon Wilhide and "inherited two stepsons." They later had a daughter and son of their own.

"A (married woman having a) career was unheard of in 1961," she says. So she "became the wife of a businessman" who, after the children were in school, "got involved in his flower shop." Along the way, she volunteered for the PTA, become president of her church women's group and raised money for the church choir.

After joining her husband in business in 1967, she was elected to the board of directors of the Allied Florist Association of Baltimore, severing one year as treasurer and two as president.

Afterward, she became president of the county Chamber of Commerce and is still a board member. She is also development chairman of the Columbia Foundation and a sits on the Howard County General Hospital board of trustees.

Columbia Association president Padraic Kennedy calls her "a person who cares an awful lot about the community -- open, responsive, questionning -- a person who does things far in excess of what is called for." As for politics, Kennedy says Wilhide "exudes a kind of bipartisan feeling."

There may be good reason for that. Born into a family of Democrats -- her grandfather represented Baltimore County in the House of Delegates for 16 years -- she and her husband switched without fanfare to the GOP in September 1985.

"Our son spearheaded it," she says. "After he told us he registered as Republican. we searched our own souls. We decided that maybe we think like Republicans, and maybe we should own up to it."

Four years later, Wilhide headed a coalition of business and civic groups called the Economic Forum that challenged the way County Executive M. Elizabeth Bobo was implementing her plans to slow the county's residential development.

Meanwhile, the Republican party began wooing then-Democrat Ecker to run against Bobo. Asked to help investigate his candidacy, Wilhide attended only one meeting; but when Ecker decided to run, he called her. She was among those who met with Ecker informally to "bring him up to date and do all the strategic things that you do."

Although the members of the group changed from week to week, there were two constants throughout -- Wilhide and Davis.

While growing up in Annapolis, about the only thing Davis knew about Columbia was that it was the home of Merriweather Post Pavilion, a place Davis went to hear the rock groups Blood, Sweat and Tears and Iron Butterfly.

After high school, he "took four or five years off," went into the Air Force, where he worked as a communications specialist and entered Penn State on the GI bill, graduating in 1977. From there, he went to law school at George Washington University in Washington.

Near graduation time, he saw a Rouse Co. ad for a corporate attorney and applied for the job. "I didn't get it -- but it got me up here," he says.

And once here, he "fell in love" with the place, "so different from the planners' nightmare" where he was then living.

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