Orlinsky's spirit shines through at funeral

Mourners notable and unknown recall his indomitable gusto

February 13, 2002|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

It was a fitting send-off for Walter S. Orlinsky: a chapel packed with people, a funeral service filled with warm remembrances and spiced with humor.

Orlinksy - the former state delegate and City Council president noted for his forward-thinking, if often off-the-wall, ideas and sardonic wit - was eulogized yesterday as a man whose enormous zest for life was quelled neither by the corruption conviction that ended his political career two decades ago nor by the cancer that took his life Saturday at age 63.

Surveying the main chapel at Sol Levinson & Bros. funeral home in Pikesville, where all of the approximately 700 seats were taken, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley set the tone for the occasion when he observed:

"Wally would be very happy with the turnout."

Those in attendance laughed knowingly.

They included Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the former governor and mayor, who clashed repeatedly with Orlinsky when the two were at City Hall but who gave him a job as head of a state tree-planting program six years after Orlinsky pleaded guilty to extortion in 1982; NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and former council President Mary Pat Clarke, who served on the council under Orlinsky; and state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

They also included judges, such as Baltimore Circuit Judge Allen Schwait; journalists, including Barry Rascovar and Lou Panos; former legislators, such as Julian L. Lapides and Carl Stokes; and current office holders, including City Councilwomen Rochelle "Rikki" Spector and Catherine E. Pugh, and state Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg.

Not everyone in attendance bore a notable name.

There were congregants of the Bolton Street Synagogue that Orlinsky, the son of a Talmudic scholar, helped found in his center-city neighborhood in the mid-1980s, and co-workers from the city's housing department, where he worked for the past two years helping families that faced having their power turned off.

Talking about Orlinsky before the service started, one of those co-workers, Richard Lewis, said he was not surprised that the family directed contributions to the Victorine Q. Adams Fuel Fund.

"As long as I've known Wally, he's tried to get poor people what they needed," said Lewis, who knew him for more than 20 years. "He was dedicated to the end."

During the service, O'Malley pointed to Orlinsky's comments in an article in The Sun last month about city workers mowing down freshly planted trees as evidence that he hadn't lost the irreverent, sarcastic edge that was one of his political trademarks.

"There was Wally, blaming the whole thing on human - in this case, male - nature: `You put the male of this species behind one of these lawnmowers, and they go berserk,'" O'Malley said to peals of laughter.

O'Malley, who delayed his departure for Salt Lake City and the Winter Olympics to speak at the funeral, added:

"He was never afraid to challenge the status quo, or our own cold indifference to the suffering of others."

Speakers didn't shy away from alluding to his legal troubles - an admission that he accepted a $10,032 bribe to help a company secure a sludge-hauling contract that led to a 4 1/2 -month prison term - but sought to put it in context.

"Wally never flinched for taking responsibility for what happened," said the Rev. Phillip Cunningham, a former chaplain at the Johns Hopkins University and a longtime friend who traveled from San Francisco.

"He didn't just take up space," Cunningham added. "He lived. He relished life. He would communicate that enjoyment to those around him."

J. Joseph Clarke, another longtime friend, recalled running for House of Delegates with Orlinsky on an interracial ticket in 1970 that he described as "revolutionary."

"That formed the core of Wally's concept of government," he said.

Bert D'Lugoff, who said he became "close friends" with Orlinsky "only after his fall," said it was symbolic of the kind of person the former politician was that the shul he helped found welcomed gays and had a female rabbi - Mona Decker, who presided at yesterday's service.

He recalled Orlinsky's reaction to the synagogue's first oil delivery: "A miracle, just like Hanukkah."

In eulogies read by friends, Orlinsky's children, Eric G. Orlinsky and Judith A. Orlinsky, summoned up memories of a father's unquenchable thirst for knowledge and insatiable appetite for good times and food: Kahlua-marinated steak; chili and eggs on New Year's Day; pina coladas on the beach at St. Croix.

And in a remembrance read by Decker, Orlinsky's wife, Judy, recalled that when her husband learned last year that his cancer was terminal, his concern was "to get my family and friends through this."

He contacted his friends one by one, and when they'd ask, "Wally, how are you?" he answered, "Not bad for a guy who only has six months to live."

Decker also read a poem written the night Orlinsky died by his sister-in-law, Ellen Orlinsky, the wife of his brother, S. Zeke Orlinsky.

The untitled poem suggested Orlinsky's spirit lives on. It read, in part:

If you're at a party that's raucous and loud,

You'll definitely know that Wally's around.

He's laughing and cracking his cynical jokes,

Making fun of the current political folks.

He's still telling the world how things should be run.

He's preaching his lectures on getting things done.

He's ranting and raving about things up there,

Telling anyone who'll listen their system's unfair.

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