J. Harold Grady, mayor, chief judge, dies at 84

He left city's top post to join bench, where he served 22 years

January 10, 2002|By Jacques Kelly and Frederick N. Rasmussen | Jacques Kelly and Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

J. Harold Grady, who spent three years in office as Baltimore's 40th mayor before resigning to become a judge, died of cancer yesterday at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. He was 84 and had lived in Homeland.

The former Goodale Road resident, who had lived at the Mercy Ridge retirement community in Timonium since July, spent 22 years on the bench - including four as chief judge of what became the Baltimore Circuit Court - until retiring in 1984.

"He felt very comfortable with the law and very uncomfortable as mayor," said former Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, whose father, Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr., was defeated by Judge Grady in the 1959 mayoral election. "He was a man of intellect, a sense of humor and was always approachable. And you always knew you were dealing with a man who was fair."

"He accomplished a great deal as state's attorney, mayor and chief judge in a most unassuming way," said J. Robert Brown, a Social Security Administration administrative judge and friend.

"He was an intelligent and fair judge, well-read in the law and a credit to the ... bench," said Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

In the early 1950s, Judge Grady attracted wide attention in the legal community as a prosecutor in the state's case against G. Edward Grammer, who was convicted of murdering his wife and using an automobile accident on Taylor Avenue as a cover-up. Grammer was put to death in 1954.

"I could always rely heavily on his judgment, and he was always a dominant figure both literally and physically at the trial table," said Anselm Sodaro, the city state's attorney during the Grammer trial, who later became chief judge of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore.

After succeeding Judge Sodaro as the city's top prosecutor, Judge Grady was drafted to run for mayor in 1959.

That year, he rode to victory on a wave of political change, defeating three-time Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr. in the hotly contested Democratic primary by a 33,000-vote margin.

In the general election, Judge Grady defeated Republican Theodore R. McKeldin, former mayor and governor, by more than 81,000 votes.

The election of Judge Grady, who was backed by Irv Kovens, also had historic consequences. It marked the eclipse of James H. "Jack" Pollack's political machine and the rise of Mr. Kovens as a kingmaker.

When Judge Grady and his running mates, Philip H. Goodman and Dr. R. Walter Graham Jr. - popularized as the Three Gs for Good Government - were elected, they gave every appearance of being a united team. Before the administration finished its first year, it became apparent that the team was not pulling together.

Mr. Goodman, the City Council president who succeeded him as mayor, and Dr. Graham, the comptroller, were complaining that Judge Grady was not consulting them on important matters, and they began disagreeing with the administration line on occasion.

The city's financial problems afflicted the new mayor. To save money, he discontinued free public baths and merged the Park Police into the Baltimore Police Department. He also speeded up land acquisition and construction of the Jones Falls Expressway and the Baltimore Civic Center, later renamed the Baltimore Arena.

Judge Grady left City Hall in November 1962, three years into his term, when he was appointed to the Supreme Bench of Baltimore, forerunner of the Circuit Court.

"He was possibly the smartest mayor I ever worked with - yet he was uncomfortable with the job - and became the best judge I've ever known," said state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, former mayor and governor.

"He was used to being a state's attorney and not dealing with politicians who came into his office with their hats on and put their feet up on the desk. He took one look at that and said, `That's not for me,'" said Mr. Schaefer.

"Harold was a very nice and decent guy who was in a better position as a judge rather than in elective office. The political pressures which swirled around him were not suited for his personality," said Walter Sondheim, now senior adviser to the Greater Baltimore Committee.

Former Gov. Marvin Mandel, who was in law school at the University of Maryland with Judge Grady, said: "He was very competent as a judge and did an excellent job throughout his career. He was courteous and kind and at the same time very effective. He made great contributions to Baltimore and the state."

"He was a bright guy who always played it down. He was even-tempered, very well-liked and respected as a judge," said Elsbeth L. Bothe, retired Baltimore Circuit Court judge. "He preferred civil cases for the most part because they were more gentlemanly."

Born in Williamsport, Pa., he was a 1934 graduate of Forest Park High School and graduated from Loyola College in 1938.

He received his commission as a reserve officer in the Navy in 1941, and the next year entered the U.S. Department of Justice after graduating from law school.

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