When Gov. Marvin Mandel was forced from the State House after his 1977 federal convictions, state police Sgt. Larry W. Tolliver took three days off to help the suspended governor load a moving van with furniture and goods from the mansion. Some of it belonged to the citizens of Maryland.
"We just did what we were told," Mr. Tolliver said to investigators from the attorney general's office in 1979, as the state lawyers were preparing a civil suit against Mr. Mandel and his wife, Jeanne, to recover the property.
Last fall, as a captain and head of the security detail for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Mr. Tolliver angered his state police superiors by shrugging off orders to cut back overtime for the governor's mansion detail.
Though troopers elsewhere were forced to hold the line -- even curtailing criminal investigations -- Mr. Tolliver continued awarding overtime to his staff because, he said, the governor and other top officials needed their services.
It is that devotion to his bosses that has helped catapult him to his new position as Col. Larry Tolliver, acting superintendent of the Maryland State Police -- an appointment that sparked criticism from some troopers, legislators and state officials, who questioned his qualifications.
Over the years, the 25-year state police veteran has made himself indispensable to those who run the state. For Mr. Schaefer, he has been a supreme loyalist who led the palace guard as captain of the 29-trooper executive protection division.
Mr. Tolliver, 46, is a strapping, affable, good old boy with a hint of a Kentucky drawl, quick with a smile and a handshake. He has a gift for becoming close to his bosses and seems to genuinely seek their friendship.
State officials say his closeness to Mr. Schaefer can be attributed to his willingness to go beyond what is expected of a police bodyguard, to blur the line that delineates duties of those troopers as signed to protect the governor.
Under Mr. Schaefer, according to state officials and troopers, Mr. Tolliver saw to it that meals prepared at the mansion were ferried by troopers to Baltimore's Good Samaritan Hospital when the governor's companion, Hilda Mae Snoops, was there last summer. He saw to it that troopers delivered packages and ran errands for her. And he transferred several troopers off the mansion security detail after she complained about them.
"The thing about Larry is that he's a big son of a gun and always has a smile on his face, and he's always very helpful -- and in politics, that counts for a lot," said Frank A. DeFilippo, who was Mr. Mandel's press secretary. "And this is not non-political. The whole goddamned thing is politics. I mean, who's kidding who?"
In a recent interview, Mr. Tolliver defended his qualifications to run the agency, explained his relationships with the political elite and made it clear that he wants to stick in the job at least until Mr. Schaefer, his lame-duck boss and current patron saint, leaves office in 1994.
He bristles at the suggestion by troopers, legislators and state officials that his role as leader of the executive protection division -- referred to derisively in state police circles as "the glamour squad" -- has been little more than that of "door holder" and driver for the politically powerful.
"We're not errand boys, and we're not lackeys," he said. "Larry Tolliver's not anyone's lackey." He declined to talk about his dealings at the governor's mansion. "I'm not going to comment on the protective mode of the governor -- and that includes everything that surrounds him."
He is an unusual candidate for superintendent, particularly when compared to his predecessors, such as Elmer H. Tippett Jr., a former deputy chief of the Prince George's County Police Department, and George B. Brosan, former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Baltimore office.
Mr. Tolliver has not ranked high on promotional exams, the measure of a trooper's knowledge of police work. In 1988, he was promoted to first lieutenant from the bottom of a promotional list, where he was ranked 31st. Two years later he was promoted to captain when he was 22nd on a 27-trooper list.
He has taken community college courses in police administration and in the mid-1980s studied to be a mortician, which he once considered as a second career.
Aside from guarding three governors, Mr. Tolliver has served a five-year stint as a road trooper and an eight-year hitch at the agency's supply depot in Waterloo -- first as assistant commander, later as commander, managing an $11 million purchasing operation and overseeing 20 employees, only two of them troopers.
Now he finds himself the head of an agency with an annual budget of $184 million and nearly 2,500 troopers and civilians. He faces an enormous task in trying to reshape and redirect a department demoralized by budget cuts and a waning sense of purpose.