Former council chairman found dead at his home

September 04, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer Staff writers James M. Coram, Ed Heard and Erik Nelson contributed to this article.

John M. Hansen, former chairman of the Columbia Council and a Democratic Party activist, was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in his van in his garage yesterday.

Howard County police say the death appears to be a suicide. Mr. Hansen was 52. An investigation is continuing.

Police discovered Mr. Hansen's body sprawled across the back seat of his Dodge Colt Vista minivan about 9:30 a.m. Police went to the home in the 5000 block of Beatrice Way in Columbia's Harper's Choice village after receiving a call from Mr. Hansen's attorney, who said he was unable to contact Mr. Hansen by phone and was concerned for his well-being.

Columbia Council colleagues and county political leaders were shocked and saddened by Mr. Hansen's death.

"This is a sad day for the community," said county Councilman Paul R. Farragut, a 4th District Democrat. "John was a citizen activist who loved his community and was generous with his time. He will be sorely missed." Mr. Hansen was Mr. Farragut's campaign manager in the 1990 election.

"You work with somebody for four years . . . it's a shock," said Charles Acquard, a former Columbia councilman. "I'm still numb."

The 10-member Columbia Council -- one representative from each of Columbia's villages -- is the board of directors for the private, nonprofit Columbia Association, which runs the city's recreational facilities and community programs. Mr. Hansen resigned suddenly from the council on May 6, the same day the Howard Circuit Court granted his wife's complaint for divorce, ending a 16-year marriage. The court granted joint legal custody of the Hansen's 13-year-old daughter, Shaina, but ordered that her primary residence would be with her mother, Donna. The couple had separated in March 1992. Several of Mr. Hansen's colleagues and friends said that Ms. Hansen and Shaina had moved to Texas.

The night he resigned, Mr. Hansen said there were "some personal issues that were factors," but maintained the main reason for his action was his opposition on moral grounds to the results of a disputed council election in Long Reach village.

In May, he also chose not to continue in his position as vice president of the Columbia Democratic Club or seek another club office.

"It bothers me. He started pulling out of everything last spring," club President Wanda Hurt said. "Hindsight is so good. There were signs that he was getting depressed."

Associates described Mr. Hansen, an associate professor of English at Catonsville Community College, as a caring, hard-working man of integrity and intelligence who wanted the best for Columbia residents. Those colleagues, community college co-workers and several neighbors also said that Mr. Hansen was reserved, often serious and didn't reveal much about his personal life.

If Mr. Hansen was reserved in some ways, he was passionate in others, colleagues said.

"He contributed a lot of time, caring and concern," said Columbia Council Chairwoman Karen A. Kuecker, who worked with Mr. Hansen for four years. "John wasn't in it for John. He was in it for other people. He wanted the community to be the best it could be and have people reap the benefits of that."

Mr. Hansen was elected to the council by the Harper's Choice village board in 1989 to replace Mr. Farragut, who was running for County Council. He served on the village board, a grass-roots advocacy council for residents, for two years, including one as chairman.

He was chairman of the Columbia Council from 1991 to 1992.

Mr. Hansen taught freshman composition at the community college since 1970. Mr. Hansen, a Nashville, Tenn., native, received a bachelor's degree from San Jose State and a master's degree in English from San Francisco State.

He moved to Columbia from the Baltimore area in 1985. He was an avid tennis player and more recently became hooked on golf.

The Columbia Association -- the private, nonprofit association that serves at the direction of the Columbia Council -- is making plans to hold a memorial service for Mr. Hansen, said Pam Mack, director of community relations.

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