Edward J. Birrane Jr., 64, Md. insurance commissioner

March 07, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Edward J. Birrane Jr., an attorney and former state insurance commissioner, died Sunday of pancreatic cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Lutherville resident was 64.

At his death, Mr. Birrane was the head of Edward J. Birrane Chartered, a Towson law firm that specializes in representing insurance companies and agents in business transactions, lawsuits and regulatory matters.

Mr. Birrane was considered an expert on the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act and in the development of self-funded employee benefit arrangements. He frequently testified before the General Assembly and Congress on insurance matters.

In 1976, he was named state insurance commissioner by Gov. Marvin Mandel and was appointed to a six-year term in 1977 by Gov. Blair Lee IV. He resigned a year before his term was to expire after a three-year struggle with Gov. Harry R. Hughes that ended soon after a report by state Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs.

The report criticized Mr. Birrane in several areas, including the handling of defunct insurance companies, hiring and awarding of legal work. He rebutted the criticism in a letter to the governor and had some powerful defenders in Annapolis.

But he decided to resign rather than to keep battling, and The Sun editorialized in June 1982: "The situation was becoming increasingly sticky ... and Mr. Birrane wisely got out while he could make a dignified exit."

"I had known Ed for years and thought he did an excellent job as insurance commissioner. He was able to get the department well-organized and smoothly functioning. Because he had a great personality, he could work with people and other departments," Mr. Mandel said yesterday.

Mr. Birrane earned a law degree in 1964, attending the University of Maryland School of Law at night while working as a reporter at the old News-Post, which he joined in 1958.

In 1964, he was appointed head of the old State Road Commission's Bureau of Highway Information, a position he held until 1967.

In 1971, he was appointed deputy state insurance commissioner by Commissioner Thomas J. Hatem.

Born in South Baltimore, Mr. Birrane was reared in Dundalk. He graduated from Calvert Hall College in 1954 and Loyola College in 1958 then served in the Navy.

Proud of his Irish heritage, he was a member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Mr. Birrane was president of the United Third Democratic Club during the 1960s. In the 1980s, he became a Republican.

Mr. Birrane was a founding member of the Catholic Community of St. Francis Xavier, 13717 Cuba Road in Hunt Valley, where a funeral Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. Saturday.

He is survived by his wife of 43 years, the former Dorothy E. Piersanti; a son, Edward J. Birrane III of Columbia; two daughters, Kathleen A. Birrane of Lutherville and Lisa M. Markovitz of Ellicott City; a brother, Richard J. Birrane Sr. of Hamilton; a sister, Patricia A. Flathman of Centerville; and two granddaughters.

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