William Tecumseh Sherman Bricker, 73, chief of Motor Vehicle Administration

October 15, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

William Tecumseh Sherman Bricker, a retired Towson lawyer and former chief of the state Motor Vehicle Administration who played a role in strengthening drunken driving laws, died of congestive heart failure Thursday at Manor Care Ruxton, a day before his 74th birthday.

A descendant of the Civil War's Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, Mr. Bricker was born and raised in Highlandtown. He was a 1945 graduate of Polytechnic Institute. His undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland were interrupted by his enlistment in the Army during the Korean War.

After earning his bachelor's degree at College Park, Mr. Bricker earned his law degree from the University of Baltimore Law School - and during his last year there worked as assistant director of the state's Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund, predecessor of the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund. He was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1958.

Mr. Bricker was named an assistant state's attorney for Baltimore in 1962, and four years later became an assistant attorney general assigned to the state motor vehicle commissioner's office.

He was named deputy administrator of the MVA in 1970, and named administrator by Gov. Harry R. Hughes in 1979 - a position that put his signature on every driver's license issued in Maryland.

Mr. Bricker headed the governor's task force on drunken driving from 1980 to 1982, and played a pivotal role in helping persuade legislators to pass some of the toughest laws in the nation against drunken driving.

"That, more than anything, is Mr. Bricker's shining achievement as MVA boss," said a Sun editorial at the time of Mr. Bricker's resignation in 1983. "There has been a significant drop in alcohol-related accidents since these reforms were implemented. Statistically it is safer to drive the state's roads, thanks to the new laws that Mr. Bricker helped to push through the legislature."

"He was very dedicated and his work saved lives. He always did a good job with anything he took on," Mr. Hughes said yesterday.

Mr. Bricker also considered high among his achievements the design of aluminum reflectorized license plates that incorporated the state flag, which he felt was the most beautiful flag in the nation.

He also successfully ruled, over tire manufacturers' objections, that radial tires safely qualified for all-weather use - saving the public millions of dollars because drivers no longer had to outfit their vehicles with radial snow tires.

After leaving the MVA, he served for several years as director of the Uninsured Employers' Fund, which handled compensation claims filed by workers against uninsured firms. He then practiced law in Towson until retiring several years ago.

He ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the House of Delegates from Baltimore County in 1986. After switching parties in 1990, he was unsuccessful challenging Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin for his 3rd District congressional seat in 1992, and in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate in 1994.

He was a former president of the Trial Judges Association of Maryland, and was a member of the Towson Elks, Towson Moose and German Society of Maryland.

He was married for 17 years to the former Jeanne Kay Eagan, who died in 1974. His subsequent marriage to M. Carroll Gatling ended in divorce.

Services are private.

Mr. Bricker is survived by three daughters, Patricia Lynn Bricker and Laura Jeanne Bricker, both of Towson, and Sharon Manning of Glen Burnie; and two grandchildren.

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