Walter John Rasmussen, a Democratic power on Baltimore County's east side for more than three decades, died of lung cancer Sunday at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. The White Hall resident was 85.
Mr. Rasmussen was born in Highlandtown and settled in Essex with his family in the 1930s. He quit school at 15 to help support the family. His jobs included making straw hats in Baltimore's garment district and working as a pipefitter at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point shipyard.
In 1944, he joined the Navy and became a pipefitter aboard the attack transport USS Dauphin in the Pacific.
After the war, he sold television sets and from 1946 to 1951 owned the Midway Cafe in Essex.
He became active in Democratic politics in 1951, eventually becoming leader of the Triple Precinct Democratic Club, later the Fifth District Democratic Club.
He was chief clerk of the Baltimore County commissioners before home rule was adopted, and was a close associate and for two years the confidential secretary of Michael "Iron Mike" Birmingham Jr., the first county executive.
In 1958, Mr. Rasmussen was elected clerk of the county Circuit Court, and during a political squabble in 1962 with Mr. Birmingham threw his support behind Republican Spiro T. Agnew, organizing and leading Democrats for Agnew.
"With Mr. Rasmussen's help, Mr. Agnew did well enough on the Democratic Eastside to become the county's first Republican executive. He went on from there to become governor and then vice president under Richard M. Nixon," said a 1994 article in The Sun.
Under Mr. Agnew, Mr. Rasmussen was named director of permits and licenses - a job he would lose after backing Frederick L. Dewberry Jr. in the 1966 Democratic primary for executive over winner Dale Anderson.
Establishing Dial Realty, he sold real estate until being named director of the county's Land Acquisition Bureau in 1975.
"He used to say, `I handle every deal like each dollar I spend is coming out of my own pocket,'" said a daughter. Ethel Rae Rasmussen of White Hall.
"He was a hard-working, conscientious county employee who was responsible for saving the county and its taxpayers a great deal of money because he didn't abuse the power of eminent domain," said Thomas Toporovich, former secretary to the County Council and a community leader.
"He always gave plenty of good political advice because he had lots of experience. He loved to talk politics," Dennis F. Rasmussen, a nephew and former Baltimore County executive, said yesterday.
Mr. Rasmussen, who had also lived in Monkton, retired in 1988.
He was an Orioles season-ticket holder, having enjoyed baseball since his youth, when he pitched for Stemmers Run Athletic Club.
After striking out 14 players in seven innings during a 1938 game, a story in The Evening Sun described him as the "Christy Mathewson of sandlot baseball."
His wife of 33 years, the former Ida Jane Harvey died in 2001.
Mr. Rasmussen was a communicant and former vestryman of St. James Episcopal Church, 3100 Monkton Road, where services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow.
Also surviving are two other daughters, Louise Cuneo and Anne Marie Wagner, both of Arbutus; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage to Anna Kroll ended in divorce.