Tyras S. 'Bunk' Athey, ex-Md. official, dies

Former Md. secretary of state and longtime Anne Arundel County delegate had been a liquor store owner and restaurateur

July 23, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Tyras Snowden "Bunk" Athey, a former Maryland secretary of state who earlier had been a longtime Anne Arundel County delegate, died Tuesday of complications from diabetes at Hospice of the Chesapeake in Annapolis.

The former Jessup resident, who had lived in Centreville for the past year, was 83.

Mr. Athey, whose parents owned and operated a country grocery store, was born and raised in Burtonsville. His grandfather nicknamed him "Bunk" after a popular 1920s comic strip character.

After graduating from Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring in 1945, he enlisted in the Navy, where he served in the waning days of World War II as a corpsman aboard the USS Consolation, a hospital ship.

After being discharged in 1947, he drove a tractor-trailer and worked for a paving contractor.

In 1951, Mr. Athey married the former Dorothy N. "Chick" O Lexey, whom he had met at a dance on Oct. 12, 1946, in Jessup.

"Columbus discovered America that day and I discovered Bunk," Mrs. Athey told The Baltimore Sun in a 1980 interview.

In 1942, her parents established the Old Farm Inn in Severn, a restaurant that was popular with Fort Meade servicemen and workers from the nearby National Security Agency.

The Atheys later took over operation of the restaurant, and in 1971 they opened Olde Farm Spirit Shoppe on Route 175 in Severn. They operated the liquor store until 1995, when they sold the business.

Mr. Athey, a conservative Democrat, was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1966, and quickly earned a reputation for doing a first-rate job for his Anne Arundel County constituents, The Sun reported at the time.

In 1972, Mr. Athey was elected chairman of the Anne Arundel County delegation, a position he held for the next six years. He was appointed to the House Ways and Means Committee, where he played a key role in revamping the state's property tax system, which resulted in the passage of the triennial assessment program in 1979.

When then-Del. Benjamin L. Cardin, his friend and political mentor, left the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee in 1978 after being named speaker of the House, it was Mr. Athey who quickly filled that void. He held the chairmanship for the next 14 years.

He was known as a "political peacemaker" who lacked the "killer instinct" and was adept at bringing opposing sides together.

Mr. Athey explained how he moved among the movers and shakers in Annapolis in a 1980 interview with The Sun.

"I could scream and holler and be a bad guy, but what good what that do?" he said. "My theory has always been you can attract more flies with honey than vinegar."

"Tyras 'Bunk' Athey was a good friend and legislative colleague," said Mr. Cardin, now a U.S. senator. "For more than two decades, he ably represented the people of Anne Arundel County and chaired the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, providing the leadership and political know-how that addressed community needs while balancing the state's budget.

"He was able to accommodate our state's diverse interests by working across the aisle and listening to all viewpoints," Mr. Cardin said. "His leadership helped create excellence in educational opportunities for Maryland students. His quiet and solid leadership contributed greatly to the success of our state's economy — enabling the benefits our citizens enjoy today."

Mr. Athey had been chairman of the Southern Legislative Conference and, in 1996, was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

In 1993, then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer swore in Mr. Athey, who replaced Winfield M. Kelly Jr., as Maryland's secretary of state.

"This is the day that I wasn't sure would ever come," Mr. Athey told The Sun. "I don't know why, but ever since I've been in the General Assembly I wanted to be secretary of state."

Mr. Athey's responsibilities as secretary included witnessing the governor's signature on all public documents, overseeing charitable organizations, issuing notary public commissions and handling extradition matters for the governor.

After leaving the post in 1995, Mr. Athey returned to Annapolis for the next legislative session as a lobbyist with another former member of the House of Delegates, Dennis C. Donaldson.

"You meet an awful lot of people when you work in the legislature, acquaintances you just don't want to lose," Mr. Athey told The Sun in 1995. "Something like this lobbying thing seemed to be the ideal thing to do to stay in touch with people."

He said that he wasn't in it for the money.

"If [it] gets too complicated and keeps us tied up too much, we'll get out of it," he said.

In 2003, Mr. Athey was presented the Thomas Kennedy Award by the Speaker's Society, which had been created by the House of Delegates in 1995. The award is given annually to a member of the society "in recognition of his or her outstanding contribution to the democratic process and to extending the ground of public confidence in government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Mr. Athey had been a member of the Jessup Volunteer Fire Department, the Jessup Community Association, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

His interests included Redskins football, thoroughbred racing and jousting.

In his younger days, Mr. Athey had been a champion jouster and he helped have jousting declared the official state sport in 1962.

He was a member of Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Donaldson's Funeral Home, 1411 Annapolis Road in Odenton.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Athey is survived by a son, Bryan P. Athey of Pasadena; two daughters, Cathy M. Pritchard of Jessup and Darlene M. Athey of Crofton; and five grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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