Loneliness is in session Lawmakers: While conducting business in Annapolis, many Maryland legislators deal with the sadness and guilt of being miles from their families.

January 14, 1998|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

There are days when John P. Donoghue drives two hours along wet, slippery roads, so tired he can hardly see straight, just to take his family out for pizza before turning back for Annapolis again.

Days when his wife, Amy, teases him, after a long week apart, about making a "laundry drop" of dirty socks. Days when he lingers at the front door, reluctant to leave, promising his four young children that soon he'll be home for good.

Today, as the Maryland General Assembly has its formal reunion, the Donoghues will say their goodbyes and begin their own simple rituals to keep up long-distance family life.

Once again, for 90 days, the ordinary people who make up Maryland's part-time legislature will move into digs in the state capital. Some of the 188 legislators live close enough to commute. But more than two-thirds of the lawyers, farmers, teachers and social workers leave their families, at least weekdays, for temporary lodging at up to $86 a day at the state's expense.

"It can get lonely," acknowledges John Donoghue, a Democratic delegate from Washington County, whose children served him waffles in bed Sunday and helped him pack his duffel bag before he left his comfortable brick home in Hagerstown for Loews Annapolis Hotel.

At least at a hotel, he will see colleagues at breakfast. One of 13 children, he's used to a crowd. When he rented a townhouse on the outskirts of Annapolis last year, he missed his family more than ever. He felt isolated: "I'd cook dinner and just watch TV, all by myself."

Those like Donoghue who come from the far corners of Maryland often face more difficult trade-offs in balancing their legislative and family duties.

Del. Bennett Bozman, a Democrat from Berlin on the Eastern Shore, frets that he can't check often enough on his 92-year-old mother. "I call her every three or four days, but I miss being able to see her," he says.

Republican Del. George C. Edwards, who comes the longest way of all, 185 miles from Grantsville in Garrett County, grows more than a little nervous when he hears of a winter storm. He thinks of his wife, Linda, digging out from under snowdrifts so she can get to the convenience store the family runs.

But Edwards counts himself lucky because he has two grown children who can help. Fifteen years ago, in his freshman year, he worried more about his wife, at home with their 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. When they were in high school, he looked for afternoons when he could slip out of the State House to attend their basketball games.

As a father of four, Donoghue, 40, faces some of the same tough choices. The litany of family events grows longer each year: soccer practice, Cub Scout meetings, school plays, birthday parties. He misses virtually all of them weeknights from January to April but makes the 196-mile round-trip pilgrimage most weekends.

Mondays, he drops the kids off at school and checks in on his full-time job as a stockbroker. But even those errands come to an end during the final weeks of marathon voting sessions.

Those are the times he barely makes it to Hagerstown, when his wife gets so exhausted from being a single parent, when she begs him to come home. Once, after a "particularly horrid week," he found an urgent message on the kitchen table: "Come to Playland. Someone is about to die."

"Everyone had practices, birthday parties. I needed help," recalls Amy Donoghue.

Still, the Donoghues, a couple since they met in college while he was working for U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, have adjusted better than they expected.

On his first day in the Maryland House of Delegates seven years ago, his wife wept. Daughter Erin, then 4, was upset, too. Amy remembers standing on the steps of an inn across from the State House. "Erin was crying. I was crying. John was crying," she said.

Over the years, the Donoghue family has found comfort in the routine of phone calls, Valentine's messages and visits back and forth between Annapolis and Hagerstown.

"We're not lonely because he calls us every night," says Philip, 10, who takes pride in "being man of the house." Erin cheers up her father with drawings and little notes.

When they visit, they drag him off to the local sweet shops. Or, says chatty 8-year-old Paul, they build forts and "jump off the beds" in the hotel room. They fear their father's colleagues are far too polite, so they tease him mercilessly. "He had hair like me once," Paul says.

"He brushes his hair, and he doesn't have any," Erin says, giggling.

Donoghue credits family experiences with inspiring some of his legislative efforts, among them pushing for Maryland to become the first state in the nation in 1995 to require a minimum 48-hour stay for new mothers and their babies. He knew how exhausted his wife was after her deliveries. Her last was particularly memorable; five years ago, he rushed back from Annapolis to get her to the hospital in time to give birth to their youngest son, Jay.

Luckily, as Philip notes, his father had better transportation than his predecessors did.

He has the seat that once belonged to Jonathan Hager. But those were Colonial days, and Hager rode from Western Maryland to the General Assembly on a horse.

Pub Date: 1/14/98

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