Friends, family and a throng of public officials past an present gathered yesterday in a modest but beautiful church in Southwest Baltimore to send Harry J. McGuirk on his way.
"We lost our best friend, our adviser, our confidante," said his son, Bryant McGuirk. "He left behind a very large pair of soft shoes that will never be filled."
Known as "Soft Shoes" for his unobtrusive but effective political deal-making, Mr. McGuirk died Monday after suffering a heart attack in a Baltimore parking garage.
A former state legislator and longtime patriarch of South Baltimore's Stonewall Democratic Club, Mr. McGuirk had been a key aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer for the last four years.
A small convention of mostly Democratic officials gathered at St. Joseph's Monastery Church in Irvington to say goodbye.
Among them were Mr. Schaefer, a friend of Mr. McGuirk's from boyhood; two former governors, Marvin Mandel and Harry R. Hughes; Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, U.S. Senators Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, a couple of congressmen, and almost half the Maryland Senate, where Mr. McGuirk put in 15 memorable years.
A handful of lobbyists and city councilmen, as well as the entire state Cabinet, helped fill the medium-sized Romanesque church tribute to the central political figure of South Baltimore.
Also, there was lobbyist Ira C. Cooke, who had been with Mr. McGuirk just before his death Monday morning. Mr. McGuirk had been at the courthouse with Mr. Cooke, his attorney, to settle a lawsuit stemming from lead paint in one of the properties he owned in Baltimore.
No politicians spoke at the hour-long service. It was left to his children, and a family friend, Baltimore City Police Capt. Michael J. Andrew, to remember Mr. McGuirk.
"Here's to a very special man, our dad," said one of his two daughters,Renee McGuirk Spence. "He lived his life to the fullest. His heart was full of love. He had found joy in his living
and peace within himself."
Mr. McGuirk became a trouble-shooter for Mr. Schaefer in 1988, after a stint as a lobbyist for Baltimore, a losing bid for governor in 1982, and a 22-year career in the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates. He was famous for his fastidious clothes, his courtly manners and his wide knowledge of the style and substance of politics.
But yesterday the accent was on Mr. McGuirk the man.
"He always had time to listen," said his son Bryant. "He had an uncanny sense of knowing when he was needed. The reality of his death has hit us very hard. We never expected our father not to be here."
Concluding yesterday's mass, the choir sang "Maryland, My Maryland," and the priests draped a state flag on the coffin before it was taken from the church.
Mr. Schaefer ordered Maryland flags to fly at half-staff at all state buildings in honor of Mr. McGuirk. The two first met as children.
Outside the church, political friends despaired of the loss of a colorful and friendly man who was a living link to the glory days of Baltimore clubhouse politics. Said Mr. Mandel, "Slowly but surely, they're all going."