Melvin S. Laszczynski, 72, fuel tanker driver and Baltimore City Council sergeant-at-arms

May 11, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

On most Monday nights for 27 years, Melvin S. Laszczynski, the Baltimore City Council's sergeant-at-arms, unfastened the council chamber's red velvet rope to admit members to their seats.

After fastening his rope and counting heads, Mr. Laszczynski would bellow to the council president: "We have a quorum, Mr. President." Then the council meeting would begin.

Mr. Laszczynski, a retired fuel tanker driver who joined the council as a part-time clerk in 1971, died Saturday of a massive heart attack at his Highlandtown residence. He was 72.

At 6 foot 1 and weighing 250 pounds, with snow white hair, rimless silver glasses and a carefully pressed suit, Mr. Laszczynski (pronounced La-ZIN-ski) cut an imposing figure.

In an interview with The Sun last year, he said, "Once I take that rope and clip it, no one gets through. Unless I say so.

"You can get worked up back there. I find that I'm talking to myself. When they take a vote, I'm voting, too," said Mr. Laszczynski.

The self-acknowledged political junkie unsuccessfully ran as a Democratic candidate for a 1st District council seat in 1971.

"He was the 20th member of the City Council without a vote," said 1st District Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr.

"People looked up to him and there was never any trouble in the council," he said. "He knew as much about the issues as the council members did, and he always took new members under his wing for at least two years until they felt comfortable and knew their way around.

"Not only did he lower and raise the rope in the chamber, he was also there to give you advice," Mr. D'Adamo said with a chuckle.

"Essentially, he maintained order and decorum in the council chamber," said Council President Lawrence A. Bell III. "He was highly respected and had an institutional knowledge of City Hall and he kept things light and moving."

Mr. Laszczynski, who was called "Mel" by mayors and others in City Hall, retired after presiding over the Jan. 18 council meeting.

In 1982, he had a heart attack. In recent years, he carried an oxygen tank to help him breathe. "He continued to come to work and he made every effort to get here. He'd take a few steps and then sit down. His death has really hit everybody hard here," said Mr. D'Adamo.

A gregarious man with a keen sense of humor, Mr. Laszczynski was well-known in the Polish community, where he was a member of the Polish Home Club, the Polish American Congress and the Polish National Alliance.

"He was a very significant person in the Polish community," said Carolyn Krysiak, a member of the House of Delegates from Baltimore's 46th District.

Ms. Krysiak said that up to his death, Mr. Laszczynski played a pivotal role in raising money to build a Baltimore memorial to the 15,000 Poles killed by Russians at Katyn Forest during World War II.

Mr. Laszczynski, an East Baltimore native, was one of 12 children born to Polish immigrant parents from Ukraine who settled in East Baltimore. He graduated from Patterson High School.

During World War II, he served as a driver with the 39th Infantry in Europe and was discharged in 1947. He worked aboard Esso oil tankers until 1950, when he became a driver for Sherwood Oil Co. He later drove for Standard Oil of Ohio and retired in 1992.

As a pastime, Mr. Laszczynski daily visited Broadway Market on East Monument Street, chatting up the merchants. "He used to hang out there so much that they called him `the Mayor of Broadway Market,' " said his son Melvin Douglas Laszczynski of San Francisco. "His hobbies were schmoozing, eating and politics."

For many years, Mr. Laszczynski was the usher at the noon Mass at Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church, 400 S. Chester St., where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

Besides his son, he is survived by his wife of 49 years, the former Lorraine Lukaszewski; another son, Gregory Laszczynski of Ellicott City; two daughters, Karen Ann Miller of Forest Hill and Donna Lynn Laszczynski of Highlandtown; a brother, Frank Laszczynski of Fells Point; three sisters, Stella Hierstetter of Reisterstown, Jane Kreider of White Marsh and Lorraine Cremen of Dundalk; and three grandchildren.

Pub Date: 5/11/99

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