AN ARMY travels on its stomach, a city on the creative passion of its citizens - its small businessmen, its neighborhood volunteers, its gadflies, raconteurs and colorful characters.
These are the relatively anonymous dreamers and risk-takers, the opinion leaders who care about neighborhoods, who make opportunities for young people, who help government see the right thing and how to do it. These people honor their convictions even when it brings them pain and setback. They do what they do because they can do no other.
Baltimore lost three of them recently. There was Ed Kane, a colorful character whose gruff exterior hid a passion for Baltimore and its nourishing history. There was Sam Lacy, the civil-rights champion who spent 80 of his 99 years as a sportswriter hammering on the doors of American sporting apartheid. And there was Ruth Rehfeld, a Holocaust escapee who knew the value of home ground, who knew the law could protect it.
She came to Baltimore as a refugee in 1939, graduated from Western High School and won a Phi Beta Kappa key at Goucher College. Then she found her passion: volunteer and mainstay of Baltimore's Citizens' Planning and Housing Association, a seedbed for city leaders.
Mrs. Rehfeld had the distinction, her associates say, of knowing the city zoning code by heart; if you wanted to protect your neighborhood, you had to have the tools. "She was the quintessential volunteer," said Chris Hartman, a former CPHA director and press boss for Mayor William Donald Schaefer. She wasn't after ribbons, he said: "When she joined, she actually did something. ... She believed in people and, boy, she was a tough fighter."
A fighter like Sam Lacy, who badgered everyone to open professional sports to black athletes. Perhaps as much as Dodgers owner Branch Rickey or Jackie Robinson - who get the credit - Sam Lacy integrated professional baseball. He hectored the aristocrats of golf and every other discriminating entity or individual that they had a responsibility to join his campaign.
And there was Ed Kane, irascible admiral of the city's pre-eminent water taxi fleet and teller of ghost stories.
Mr. Kane had few peers as a lover of Baltimore. He held forth on Saturdays (and other days) at a neighborhood coffee joint in Fells Point, speaking with authority, then lowering his head as if nothing more could or need be said on that subject.
He had the right. He'd been down the waterfront of life, its joy and heartbreak. As a boy, he was entranced by the grit and panache of Ben Hogan, and might have followed Mr. Hogan to the professional golf tour. He had talent, he said, but not enough talent.
He attended the U.S. Naval Academy, didn't graduate but revered it all his life. He was a schoolteacher for a time, but found another venture, taken up as a part-time summer job, more lucrative. He worked for the gas and electric company. Then, when there was hardly a destination of interest, he launched a flotilla of water hacks. Only Mr. Schaefer thought he wasn't loony.
In him, said Father Richard Lawrence, his friend, you had "a rare conjunction" of qualities: a person who wanted the truth even when it hurt, but also one who had hope.
When people said Baltimore was dead after the 1968 riot, Ed became a one-man truth squad.
"First of all," he said, according to Father Lawrence, "it isn't true. Second of all, it's isn't right. This city is going to thrive. I'm going to stay here and be part of it. You can, too."
He spent the time allowed him at the end, taking stock and urging others to love the city as he had done. He wanted to own a house just west of his own house on Shakespeare Street, adjacent to the grave of Edward Fells, a shipbuilder after whom the neighborhood is named. He wanted tangible links between past and present, a reminder of past glory that would make us more daring, unwilling to accept less than our best.
Last winter, at his taxi company's seasonal celebration, he raged against the disease he knew would take him. Then he conferred awards on people he thought were keystones of the city. He gave Mr. Schaefer a sword of distinction and called him a mentor, a leader and a visionary - a worthy member of the Ed Kane pantheon of Baltimore statesmen.
So let us now praise Ed and Sam and Ruth and raise them to that same niche in our collective memory.
C. Fraser Smith is an editorial writer for The Sun. His column appears Sundays.