Spiro T. Agnew, ex-vice president, dies in Md. at 77

Former governor, Balto. Co. executive rose to 2nd office

Forced to resign in scandal

He spent later years as broker of business deals, out of limelight

September 18, 1996|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

Spiro T. Agnew, a former governor of Maryland who was twice elected vice president of the United States, then forced to resign in 1973 after pleading no contest to a charge of federal income tax evasion, died yesterday of undisclosed causes at an Eastern Shore hospital.

He was 77.

John Ullrich, owner of the Ullrich Funeral Home on Ocean Gateway in Ocean City, said the establishment received Agnew's body yesterday evening.

A desk clerk at English Towers in Ocean City, where Agnew had an 11th-floor apartment, said that about 3 p.m. the former vice president was taken by an Ocean City volunteer fire company ambulance to Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin.

"He was a friend," said former 2nd District Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a Republican. "He served Maryland well. He served President Nixon well. And the misfortunes that came his way should be allowed to die with him."

Victor Gold, who was Agnew's press secretary, said that although the former vice president was known for his political rhetoric, he appreciated him for his intellect.

"This somehow shocks people when I say he was more a man of ideas and he was more interested in ideas than he was in politics," Gold said last night from his home in Falls Church, Va.

"He's always been a friend, and I owe him a great deal. A lot of us do," he said.

In a span of six years, Agnew rose from Baltimore County executive to the governorship of Maryland, then to the vice presidency in the administration of President Richard M. Nixon.

His downfall was even more startling. On Oct. 10, 1973, he simultaneously resigned as vice president, and, in a negotiated settlement with the Department of Justice, pleaded no contest in a Baltimore courtroom to the charge of income tax evasion during his two years as governor of Maryland.

It was a deal that sent Agnew into political obscurity, denying him the chance to ascend to the presidency when Nixon resigned in disgrace less than a year later.

But before he left the national stage, Agnew had forged a persona as a tough-talking law-and-order candidate who reviled Vietnam War protesters and criticized liberal academics and the press.

His most famous lines came in a 1970 speech, when he attacked the media as "nattering nabobs of negativism" and "the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history."

In recent years, Agnew underwent a sort of rehabilitation. In May 1995, he attended the unveiling of his white marble bust in the Capitol in Washington, joining images of the vice presidents who preceded him.

"I'm not blind or deaf to the fact that some people feel that this is a ceremony that should not take place," Agnew said. "I would remind those people that, regardless of their personal view of me, this ceremony has less to do with Spiro Agnew than with the office I held, an honor conferred on me by the American people two decades ago."

Three months earlier, in February, Gov. Parris N. Glendening rescued Agnew's portrait from a storage room and hung it along with the other past Maryland governors in the State House Reception Room.

In a reconciliation of sorts, Agnew attended the April 1994 funeral of Nixon, where he confided to his former speechwriter, William Safire, that he and Nixon had not spoken since Agnew's forced resignation in 1973.

Spiro Theodore Agnew was born in Baltimore on Nov. 9, 1918, the son of Theodore Spiro Agnew and Margaret Akers Agnew.

In 1937, he enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University, majoring in chemistry, but withdrew three years later to study law.

He attended night classes at the University of Baltimore Law School and worked days at the Maryland Casualty Co. as an assistant insurance underwriter.

There, he met a file clerk, Elinor Isobel "Judy" Judefind. After several dates, they discovered that they had both attended Forest Park High School (she two years behind him) and had lived only a few blocks from each other when they were children.

They became engaged in April 1941 but postponed a December marriage when Agnew was drafted that September, three months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

After preliminary training at two Army bases in the South, Agnew was selected for Officer Candidate School at Fort Knox, Ky., and upon graduation in May 1942 he received his commission as a second lieutenant. He and Judefind were married a few days later.

In 1944, he was sent to the European Theater of Operations, where he saw combat in France and Germany as the Allies closed in on Hitler's Germany.

As a member of the 10th Armored Division, he earned four battle stars, the Bronze Star, Combat Infantryman's Badge and, in late 1944, was present at the Battle of the Bulge, Germany's $H desperate Christmastime thrust against the Allies at the Belgian town of Bastogne.

"In this brief encounter with responsibility and danger, he acquitted himself well," author Theo Lippman Jr. wrote in his biography of the Marylander, "Spiro Agnew's America; The Vice President and the Politics of Suburbia," published in 1972.

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