Hansen lauded as a man of principle Memorial honors community activist

September 14, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Former Columbia Council Chairman John M. Hansen was remembered yesterday as a deeply involved community activist who valued principles and issues above politics, and also as a reserved, complex perfectionist who few people knew well.

About 100 colleagues, co-workers and friends, including Columbia Council and County Council members and Columbia Association leaders, attended a memorial on the banks of Lake Kittamaqun di in the Town Center for Mr. Hansen, who was found dead in his garage Sept. 3, an apparent suicide. He was 52.

"We chose this site [the lakefront] because, in essence, it's the heart of Columbia," said Padraic Kennedy, president of the association. "John worked on the heart of Columbia for so long."

Mr. Hansen served on the Columbia Council -- the board of LTC directors for the association, which runs the unincorporated city's recreational and community programs -- from 1989 until May 6, when he resigned unexpectedly after one year as chairman.

Mr. Kennedy described Mr. Hansen as multifaceted man who was "not easy to understand, complex and reflective" and who relished debating issues and shaping public policy.

Mr. Hansen's views sometimes weren't popular, Mr. Kennedy said, but his proudest moments may have been council votes in which he was the lone dissenter, "upholding principles he believed in."

"Not everyone agreed with his point of view, but no one, no one, could question John Hansen's dedication" to making Columbia a better community, Mr. Kennedy said.

Former Columbia Councilman Charles Acquard said Mr. Hansen, associate professor of English at Catonsville Community College since 1970, was "more poet than politician."

Mr. Hansen's most important legacy was "unintentional," Mr. Acquard said. His death should be a reminder that the community is made up of individuals, some of whom "need our help . . . on a one-on-one, human-to-human" basis, he said.

In a personal tribute, Harper's Choice village board member Laura Waters said that even though she knew Mr. Hansen for only about a year, she feels the same about his death as she did several years ago when her 17-year-old son, Alex, died of complications from muscular dystrophy. Mr. Hansen represented Harper's Choice on the council.

"John and I touched each other's hearts," she said. "We didn't have to explain how we felt about things. . . . We knew. We shared laughter, peace and friendship. . . . We couldn't have been closer if we had been friends for years."

Others said they barely knew Mr. Hansen, even after working with him for many years. John Masterson, an associate professor at the community college and Mr. Hansen's office mate, said he knew Mr. Hansen "to the extent he allowed himself to be known."

Robert Keefer, dean of instruction at the college, described Mr. Hansen as an intense instructor who had high expectations for students, colleagues and himself. "He often had little patience for those who didn't measure up, including himself, but that was John," Mr. Keefer said.

Those characteristics carried over into Mr. Hansen's personal activities, Mr. Keefer said. Mr. Hansen, knowing that Mr. Keefer was a better tennis player, sought him out for games, Mr. Keefer said.

Mr. Hansen, a Columbia resident since 1985, served on the Harper's Choice village board from 1987 to 1989. He was active in the Columbia Democratic Club and in political campaigns.

He and his wife divorced this year, and the Howard Circuit Court ordered that the primary residence for the Hansens' 13-year-old daughter, Shaina, be with her mother.

The Harper's Choice board of directors has established a fund in Mr. Hansen's name through a group that awards grants to nonprofit organizations. Tax-deductible donations may be sent to John Hansen's Memorial Fund, c/o The Community Support Center, Kahler Hall, 5440 Old Tucker Row, Columbia, Md. 21044.

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