New GBC chief a skilled problem-solver

Those who know him say Fry is expert at political compromises job requires

October 20, 2002|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

While fellow eighth-graders watched ball games or comedy shows on late-night television, Donald C. Fry was glued to the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

The man who will become president of the Greater Baltimore Committee next month knew at a young age that politics and public policy issues were his calling.

"I live to solve problems, whether while practicing law, serving in the legislature or here at GBC," said Fry, 47, who has been GBC executive vice president and general counsel for 3 1/2 years.

"Nothing is more fulfilling than being faced with a situation there doesn't seem to be a solution to and being able to make deals happen so that both sides get what they want. Problem-solving, coming up with compromises, consensus-building - those are things that get me excited. It probably makes lots of people bored."

Friends and associates describe Fry as easygoing, sincere, thoughtful, driven by a tireless work ethic, a good listener and confidant, skilled at bringing people with diverse viewpoints together.

For years, his workdays have stretched from 7 in the morning until 8 or later at night.

"I think he's one of the hardest-working people I know," said Walter Sondheim, senior adviser at the GBC, the region's leading organization of business and civic leaders. "He's here when I come, and he's here when I leave."

As far back as high school, Fry's student government faculty adviser remembers having to kick Fry out of the student government office after school, telling him: "It's time to go home now."

"Don always had a strong interest in government and leadership," said Bill Seccurro, Fry's student government faculty adviser then, and now chief executive of the Harford County Chamber of Commerce. "He was always curious about the workings of government."

Whenever Fry was asked to secure a guest speaker for school, he came up with someone from the House of Delegates or a county council, said Bill Stetka, director of public relations for the Orioles and one of Fry's best friends since 1969, when the two started playing football together at Bel Air High School.

Fry went on to play college football at Frostburg State College. A linebacker, Fry aspired to be the next Dick Butkus, the famous Chicago Bears linebacker.

He's still 6 feet 2 inches tall, but he politely declines to reveal how far north he is of the 225 pounds he weighed then, saying one of his goals is to get closer to his playing shape. Fry was co-captain of the team, the Bobcats, his senior year, during a tough season when the team's record was 0-10.

"I know how tough it was on him," Stetka said. "He didn't let up. It didn't matter to him if they were down 30 points or it was a scoreless game. He was determined to make the best of it and to make sure everyone did the same thing. If there's an obstacle, he looks for ways to beat it."

Fry earned his bachelor of science degree at Frostburg in 1977 and graduated from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1979.

From 1980 through 1999, he was a general practice attorney in Harford County. Eventually, he decided he didn't want to do that for the rest of his life.

Mark L. Wasserman, senior vice president of the University of Maryland Medical System, knows Fry from his days in the General Assembly.

Fry represented Harford County in the House from 1991 to 1997. In 1997, he was appointed to the remaining state Senate term of William A. Amoss, who had died. Fry served two years.

"I think he has solid values, is well-grounded and his ego is in check," Wasserman said. "I think his gentle, courteous demeanor is disarming and attracts people to him. I think he has an unbelievably deep-seated work ethic that impresses people and sets a good tone."

Four years ago, Fry, a Democrat, was defeated in his bid to win a full Senate term. His wife, Bonnie, said that although she knew he was disappointed, he didn't say much at the time. He had predicted the loss, knowing that the district voted largely Republican, she said.

"He accepted it and didn't really talk about it a whole lot," she said. "To him, it wasn't something to dwell on. It was time to move on."

Soon afterward, GBC President Donald P. Hutchinson approached him with the GBC job offer, suggesting that Fry could be groomed for the top position, she said.

"I saw the GBC as a great opportunity to try to shape the direction of public policy, social issues and economic development," Fry said. "To help develop consensus among business leaders, community leaders and government officials and to sell those concepts to the ultimate decision-makers at the city, county or state level."

Recently, the plan had been to name Fry interim president, then conduct a national search. But GBC board members quickly decided that a national search was unnecessary.

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