Politics is tradition for Nutwells Register of wills job held by father and son

November 29, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

During the lifetime of most Anne Arundel County residents, somebody named George M. Nutwell has been the register of wills.

For the past 300 years, some Nutwell or other was involved in southern Maryland local politics or civics.

These days, it's George M. Nutwell Jr., of the family for whom the south county intersection-hamlet of Nut-well, and the byways Nutwell Sudley Road, Nutwell Road and Nutwell Court are named. Until the 1996 death of his father, George M. Nut-well Sr., who was register of wills from 1958 to 1978, he was father, son or cousin to four George Nutwells.

"There's an awful lot of Nutwells around, and we are all related somehow. In our family, we went 40 years without a girl, so you can imagine the name carrying on," Nutwell said.

Nobody's sure how many Nut-wells descended from the Nuttwell clan that came to Virginia's Tidewater area in the 1630s. A family reunion nearly a generation ago brought 300 kin to the table, all of whom had lost the second "t" over the centuries.

Even if all his relatives voted for Nutwell on Nov. 3, they'd hardly account for the record-setting 113,749 votes he received -- the most ever cast in a local office here, and a number that has political observers shaking their heads. He got 97.6 percent of the vote; there were 2,841 write-ins.

Nobody needed to feel compelled to vote for the 62-year-old Annapolis Republican. He ran unopposed.

He will be sworn in for his fourth term Thursday.

"This is the Nutwell dynasty," said Dan Nataf, director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College. "Until the Nutwells decide they no longer want that position, it is theirs to keep. They are the [Louis] Goldsteins of Anne Arundel County."

Not that Nutwell didn't put up a campaign. He passed out a simple card nearly identical to the one he used four years ago and made the rounds at Republican and civic activities. He is a frequent speaker at American Association of Retired Persons and senior citizen groups, where he discusses the mainstays of his job: death and taxes.

The combination of name recognition, lack of controversy and little public awareness of the post leaves Democrats wringing their hands.

Nutwell's voter pull is such that Democrats figured it would be easier to get Nutwell to switch to their party than to field a candidate who could beat him.

"People don't just run for office to run for office; they like to have some encouragement that they will win. And in Democratic circles, nobody encouraged anybody to run against George Nutwell. Or if anybody said, 'What do you think about running for register of wills?' somebody else said, 'Are you crazy?' " said former state Sen. Michael J. Wagner of Ferndale, a Democrat who has worked behind the scenes since his 1994 re-election defeat.

Helen Fister, just-retired Republican Central Committee chairwoman, offered another reason for the lack of opposition for the $75,000-a-year post: "I don't think anybody else wants the job."

Very much a behind-the-scenes job, register of wills is a management position for a 16-person office that handles the procedural side of the administration of estates. It's similar to the clerk of courts post, which supervises a nearly 100-person staff and handles all Circuit Court paperwork.

Fellow Republican Robert Duckworth won a second term as clerk of the court this month with 64 percent of the vote.

About 5,000 people a year come to the register of wills office, 1,300 of them to file wills away from relatives' prying eyes. The rest arrive for some aspect of the parceling out of an estate.

L "Death and money does funny things to people," Nutwell said.

Apparently it doesn't take much money. A few years ago, adult daughters of a dead elderly woman bickered over the estate before the departed had departed for the funeral home. Nutwell was on the phone with one sister when another threw a teacup at her that shattered against the receiver. Nutwell heard boom, crunch and boom again amid shrieking and the banging of the receiver on the floor. Value of the estate: maybe $1,200.

Nutwell is a descendant of the John Nuttwell who became a justice of St. Mary's county court in 1700, a year after his election as sheriff was declared invalid.

He grew up in Deale, where his family owned a marina and tobacco farm. His politically active father took Nutwell and his two brothers to local meetings. He also became fond of public service as he got an inside look at his father's 20 years as register of wills.

After a stint in the Army, and working for Johnson's Lumber Co. and as an accountant for the comptroller's office and Department of Natural Resources, Nut-well won the office in 1986.

Like his father, he has a reputation for being knowledgeable and helpful, Democrats admit.

"The people that come in contact with this office have a good experience," said Kathy Shatt, chairwoman of the Democratic Central Committee.

"Sometimes I have problems with my estates, and he is always there to help. I have been there at 10 to 8 waiting for him to come in, and before 8 he is always there," said attorney Candace Beckett, a Democratic Central Committee member who lost to Nutwell in 1994, when he took 64 percent of the vote. "He really is kind of charming."

Four years ago, Beckett criticized the office for being so antiquated that it lacked a fax machine. But the office is now high-tech, down to computerized imaging equipment.

And where's Nutwell's will? "I don't have one," he said, noting that one of the benefits of familiarity with estate law is knowing how his property would be distributed without one.

Pub Date: 11/29/98

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