James Wilbert Pulley -- a D-Day veteran who drove five Baltimore mayors as their chauffeur, friend and sometime confidante -- died Monday at Union Memorial Hospital of complications from a stroke. He was 91.
"I was at his 90th birthday party. He was terrific. He always had a smile on his face. He was like part of our family," recalled Thomas D'Alesandro III, who knew "Pulley" both as a young student when his father Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., known as "Tommy the Elder" was mayor, and when he himself became mayor in 1967.
Mr. Pulley would sometimes drive Nancy D'Alesandro Pelosi, now the minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, to high school at the Institute of Notre Dame in Baltimore.
"Nancy would have him drive a block away from IND and let her out," Thomas D'Alesandro said, recalling that his sister didn't want to be seen coming to school in the mayor's limousine.
"I remember Pulley with great affection and respect," Ms. Pelosi said. "He was a gentleman and a real friend of our entire family."
In addition to chauffering both D'Alesandro mayors, Mr. Pulley drove Theodore R. McKeldin, Philip H. Goodman, and William Donald Schaefer during his 22-year city career. He also drove City Council President Walter S. Orlinsky.
At his retirement dinner in Little Italy in 1974, he explained that he never talked about the previous mayor with a new one, which was the secret to his longevity.
"I just didn't talk about anybody, [and] that's how I made it," he said in an article about the dinner in The Evening Sun.
"He was the chauffeur of mayors, an excellent driver. He knew every place to go," said Mr. Schaefer about the era before police officers began driving the mayor for security.
"Pulley would be a police officer himself. He wouldn't let anything happen to you," Mr. Schaefer added.
One of Mr. Pulley's granddaughters, Lynne T. Leonard of Atlanta, said he sometimes would drop her off at school on his way to take the younger mayor D'Alesandro to City Hall.
Born in Baltimore on Christmas Day in 1911, he spent many summers at his grandparents' home in rural Chase, in eastern Baltimore County. He was a track star at Frederick Douglass High School, from which he graduated in 1930.
He married Lavinia V. Waters in 1932; the couple divorced several years later, after the birth of two daughters.
A corporal in the 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, he participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944.
After the war, Mrs. Leonard said, he came home and got a job as a deliveryman, then with Continental Can, where he lost the tip of a finger in a machinery accident.
Then "a friend told him there was an opening" with the city and he got the job, but through the years, he practiced the same rules at home that he did on the job, Mrs. Leonard said.
"We always used to say that he was mum. A lot of things happened in the back of the limo, but he never said a lot. He knew a lot," she said.
Mrs. Leonard said Mr. Pulley was particularly fond of "Tommy the elder and the whole D'Alesandro family. He just felt that was his family, too," she said.
As a child, he and his family belonged to Ames Memorial Methodist Church at Carey and Baker streets, where he remained active as an adult.
Mr. Pulley joined what his family said was the first African-American Boy Scout troop in Maryland in 1928 and was active with Scouting for 52 years.
He loved sports and had a passion for golf. Mrs. Leonard said he played a full 18 holes just weeks before he died.
"He was always the life of the party and the center of attention," she said.
Mr. Pulley never remarried; he helped his daughter Emily raise her nine children after their father's death in 1967.
His other hobbies were dancing, singing, reciting poetry and traveling, often by train.
Services were yesterday at Ames Memorial Methodist Church. Survivors include a daughter, Betty D. Cottrell of Baltimore, 14 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren and 22 great-great-grandchildren.
Sun staff writer Jason Song contributed to this article.