Funeral marks Schaefer's 'extraordinary life'

Event attracts friends, one-time foes, and residents of his 'favorite child,' Baltimore

April 27, 2011|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

At a memorial service that celebrated both his landscape-altering legacy and his big-hearted if crusty-shelled persona, the William Donald Schaefer nation gathered one last time on Wednesday — friends and one-time foes alike, Maryland politicos past and present, Baltimoreans who shared his undying love for the city.

"Don Schaefer was a person who changed politics," former Rep. Kweisi Mfume said at a funeral for the former mayor, governor and comptroller that drew both tears and laughter at Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church in downtown Baltimore. "He put a human face on it."

The historic church was filled with leaders in Maryland politics, business and community life: Gov. Martin O'Malley, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the state's congressional delegation and Baltimore City Council members joined many of their predecessors — and perhaps some who would succeed them as well.

Among them were former governors Marvin Mandel and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.; former mayors Sheila Dixon and Thomas J. D'Alesandro III; current and former lieutenant governors Anthony Brown and Michael Steele; former and current attorneys general J. Joseph Curran Jr. and Douglas F. Gansler; Maryland Speaker of the House Michael E. Busch; Comptroller Peter Franchot; Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Maryland Court of Appeals; former U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes; and former and current Baltimore County executives James T. Smith Jr. and Kevin Kamenetz.

They were joined by CEOs Edwin F. Hale Sr. of First Mariner and Mark R. Fetting of Legg Mason, lobbyist Bruce Bereano, Cardinal William H. Keeler, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien and beloved Baltimore Colt Lenny Moore. The former football player last saw Schaefer when he was hospitalized with pneumonia at St. Agnes Hospital about a month ago.

"He hollered out to me from the bed, 'Spats, Spats,'" Moore said of the nickname he got for the way he taped down his high-top shoes. "He was just grinning from ear to ear."

After the service, in which speakers such as close aide Lainy LeBow-Sachs and U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski shared poignant and funny memories of the often irascible Schaefer, many were similarly smiling as broadly. Spilling out onto Charles Street, where crowds of onlookers had gathered, there were reunion-like hugs, chatter and reminiscences among those whose lives and careers had intersected with Schaefer during his nearly five decades in public office.

"I think it was a wonderful service that celebrated an extraordinary life," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer. "This is a person who genuinely, deeply, passionately cared, not just for the city, or the state, but for the people.

"He was a warm and compassionate human being who sometimes hid it very well."

As they have since Schaefer's death April 18, the memories flowed freely and fondly. Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland. Baltimore County, said Schaefer last visited the campus about a year ago.

"He sat by the Walter Sondheim statue," he said, referring to the Schaefer compatriot and hero of Baltimore's downtown revitalization, "and he held his hand."

Students walking by were excited to meet him, Hrabowski said, delighting Schaefer, who at that point had been out of office and the public eye for several years. "They really love me," Hrabowski recalled Schaefer saying in a tone of wonder. "He was so touched."

That the service was held in the midst of the downtown that Schaefer, Sondheim and their partners rebuilt wasn't lost on those who helped carry out their vision. Mark Joseph, who was Schaefer's development director, paused before entering the church to gaze at the nearby Park Charles high-rise apartment building, which was constructed under his watch.

Joseph recalled Schaefer ordering him to quickly raise money and find a sculptor to create a statue of former Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr. for Charles Center. "That's how he operated," said Joseph, who also served as the city school board president and deputy housing commissioner under Schaefer. "When something was on his mind, nothing would stop him.

"How dare he die," Joseph added wryly. "I'm very angry at him."

Schaefer's former mayoral and gubernatorial aides reunited to plan the three-day sendoff that began with Monday's crowd-drawing tour of city landmarks and neighborhoods. The skills they learned in his demanding offices, it seemed, served them well in this final endeavor for the boss — to the point that even the weather seemed to bend to their will.

On a partly overcast morning, the sun broke through just as Schaefer's casket emerged from City Hall for the trip to the church.

Heralded by police color guards, motorcycle units and a pipe-and-drum corps, the procession arrived at the church, and the flag-draped casket was carried in by pallbearers as a Maryland National Guard band launched into a jaunty "Stars and Stripes Forever."

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