William Donald Schaefer Dies at 89

The former governor will lie in state at the State House in Annapolis and in the rotunda of Baltimore City Hall.

UPDATE (11:55 p.m.)—William Donald Schaefer—Baltimore's legendary former mayor, Maryland governor and state comptroller—died Monday at around 6:30 p.m. in his bed at the Charlestown retirement community in Catonsville, according to his longtime friend Lainy M. LeBow-Sachs.

"I was with him holding his hand," LeBow-Sachs told Patch. "He couldn't speak."

Schaefer, 89, was released from the hospital earlier this month after a five-day stay for pneumonia and returned to Charlestown, where Maryland's 58th governor has lived for three years. LeBow-Sachs said she did not know the official cause but said it was likely multiple "organ shutdown."

"There will never be another William Donald Schaefer," LeBow-Sachs said. "I think everyone will be so incredibly sad. He was an icon. He touched everybody's life in Maryland."

Gov. Martin O'Malley ordered the state flag flown at half-staff immediately and ordered that Schaefer, a Democrat, will lie in state in the State House in Annapolis, where he served as governor for eight years and as comptroller for two terms, and in the rotunda of Baltimore's City Hall, where he served as mayor for 15 years.

"I join all Marylanders in mourning the loss of one of our own—Maryland's indomitable statesman, William Donald Schaefer," O'Malley said in a statement. "William Donald Schaefer loved his city and his state with great exuberance because there was nothing more important to him than the people he served with such loyalty."

It should be no surprise that the passing of the old school politician lit up the Internet with aFacebook memorial page and compilation of Twitter feeds dedicated to Schaefer. A nearly hour-long documentary on his life was produced by Maryland Public Television in 2009 based largely onUniversity of Baltimore archives.

Schaefer's place in Maryland politics was already legendary.

"He was a single man, never married. He married his career," said former Mayor Tommy D'Alesandro III, who served from 1967 to 1971 with Schaefer as his City Council president running mate. "He devoted his time around the clock to public service. I've known him for over 70 years. He was an absolutely decent human being."

Schaefer will be buried at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in a mausoleum he purchased for he and his former girlfriend, Hilda Mae Snoops, who died in 1999, according to another lifelong friend, Gene Raynor.

Raynor was working in the city's elections office in 1955 when he first met Schaefer, who was running for City Council for the first time and wanted to buy a voters list. The $200 price was too much for Schaefer, so Raynor let him borrow his copy if he promised to bring it back. Schaefer won and returned the list. The two were friends ever since, vacationing together nearly every year thereafter.

"He was a good soul," said Raynor, 75. "He wanted to be remembered not for what people did for him—electing him to governor, or mayor or comptroller—but for what he did for people."

From humble roots, a brazen leader emerges

Born in Baltimore on Nov. 2, 1921, Schaefer graduated from the University of Baltimore Law School in 1942 and served in the U.S. Army during World War II, according to state archives. He was a hospital administrator in England and Europe before returning to the United States to practice real estate law. He earned a master's of law degree in 1954 from UB Law School and remained in the U.S. Army Reserves until 1979, when he retired as a colonel.

Schaefer served on the Baltimore City Council from 1955 to 1971, spending the last four years as council president. He then beat George Russell to become mayor in 1971. He served until 1986, a 15-year period that saw the city transform under his flamboyant leadership and unbridled pride in all things Baltimore.

M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corporation, was one of Schaefer's earliest supporters who worked on his campaign for mayor in 1971.

"He was the best mayor I've ever seen and I've seen quite a few in Baltimore and in other cities," said Brodie, who worked as Schaefer's city housing commissioner. "He had great instincts. He didn't get it out of a book or take a poll to see what people want. He had great leadership instincts and guts to follow through on the instincts."

Schaefer has long been considered the champion of the Inner Harbor, spearheading efforts in the late 1970s to transform it from a backwater industrial drag to the city's economic heart. The success was by no means a guarantee, Brodie said.

"It could have easily failed," Brodie said. "When we proposed the National Aquarium, (critics) dubbed it the 'mayor's fish tank.'"

Brodie said Schaefer was beloved for his quirks.

"We were all personally very fond of him," he said. "He was a quirky guy."

The impatient "do it now" mayor was famous for his handwritten "Monday morning memos," Brodie said. The notes contained critical observations about potholes, trash collection, graffiti and other eyesores that Schaefer wanted fixed immediately.

"His Monday morning memos written in his big cursive handwriting were famous," Brodie said.

City Hall cabinet meetings were also entertaining. Schaefer gave pictures of eagles to department heads who performed admirably. Those who hadn't got pictures of turkeys. 

Schaefer was not afraid to throw the heft of his office behind causes he felt would make a difference. When the downtown Hyatt in the late 1970s looked like it wasn't going to get the mortgage approved, Schaefer called the financial institution and argued with an official who had authority to approve the loan. The mayor invited the official to Baltimore so he could prove the city was a worthwhile investment.

"That guy came down and we all met with him," Brodie said. "At the end of the day he supported it."

From mayor to governor, quirks and all

After Schaefer's 15 years as mayor, he served as governor from 1987 to 1995. He served as state comptroller from 1999 to 2007.

Schaefer often had a testy relationship with his gubernatorial successor, Parris N. Glendening. When Schaefer served as comptroller, the two sat at the same table during meetings of the Board of Public Works. Schaefer often taunted Glendening, who took the gibes impassively.

"He loved whatever position he was in so much that when he left it he just couldn't give it up," Glendening said.

Glendening pointed out that Schaefer was critical of Kurt Schmoke and Martin O'Malley while they served as mayor of Baltimore.

"I don't think he was critical of them as people," Glendening said. Schaefer just had ideas of how he would run the city.

"I was very much aware that," Glendening said. "It wasn't he was being personally critical. He loved being governor. He just thought he could do better."

Glendening added: "He may well be in a different place right now, organizing people and telling them how he could do it better."

Nancy Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools since 1991, said Schaefer "was absolutely obsessed with helping people."

Grasmick said Schaefer brought to state government the same attention to detail he employed as mayor by firing off his memos seeking solutions to problems he had spotted.

"He would bring packs letter to cabinet meeting and he would read them," said Grasmick, who was first appointed in 1989 by then-Gov. Schaefer to be special secretary for children, youth and families and then two years later was named state schools superintendent.

The letters, Grasmick said, were from "average people who didn't get service."

"(Schaefer) would demand that it be remedied immediately," she said. "It was his philosophy—he really saw himself as a public servant and he never forgot that."

The Schaefer Way: having it both ways

Schaefer was a consummate retail politician whose political rise was built on his own individual style of retail politics and being tied to the political machines that dominated much of local politics. But his style went beyond political ideology. In 1992, the Democratic stalwart supported Republican Presidential candidate George Bush.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, said Schaefer was the rare politician who "had it both ways." He could be an individual who didn't have to two the party line while at the same time enjoying the organizational benefits of the political machines "who did the work for him."

As U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski put it in a statement: “Though his roots were in machine-driven politics, he had the heart of a reformer."

Mikulski said he went out of his way to defeat her coalition's opposition to legislation to build a highway that would have paved Fells Point when she was a community organizer. After Schaefer won the fight, he then called Mikulski in to fashion a compromise that led to the Ft. McHenry tunnel and saved Fells Point and Federal Hill.

"He never stopped thinking about Baltimore," Mikulski said in a statement. "Baltimore and its streets and its neighborhoods and its people were his family."

Grasmick said Schaefer was "really was his own person."

"He didn't care if something was politically correct," Grasmick said. "If that was what he believed was the right thing to do then it was what he was going to do."

But Schaefer could be a curmudgeon. He frequently wrote letters of disapproval to columnists and reporters who wrote stories that he didn't like. He would often show up on the doorstep of a constituent who wrote a letter of complaint.

His cabinet was not immune to his temper.

Grasmick recalled a breakfast meeting at which she disagreed with Schaefer over a health policy issue.

"I thought it was a horrible idea and being the spitfire that I was, I told him so," Grasmick said. "(Schaefer) got right up and walked out."

"When he wasn't happy, you knew it," she added

Of all the jobs he had, Schaefer was defined by his job as Baltimore mayor.

"He did everything he could to bring positive attention to the city and the state," Grasmick said. "But I think he just loved being mayor of Baltimore City. I think he saw his roots there. I think he saw there was nothing that was impossible there."

Grasmick said she last saw her friend a few weeks before he was hospitalized for pneumonia. They talked about the old days and "riding around in his 'Do it now' bus."

In the end, Grasmick said it was the last election in 2006 when he lost his bid for comptroller that took its toll on the political giant.

"I think he took that very hard," Grasmick said. "He spent his whole life as a public servant."

A fighter to the end

It was Comptroller Peter Franchot who defeated Schaefer in 2006.

The former comptroller apparently never forgot. Franchot said that he asked an aide who had been Schaefer's former assistant to call Schaefer at home after he had been ill. 

The aide returned to Franchot's office, staring at the floor. Franchot asked what was wrong. The aide said she had spoken to another assistant to Schaefer, who did not want to come to the phone.

"She told me she didn't want to hurt my feelings but she could hear the boss in the background yelling to his aide, 'You tell him that I don't want to talk to him,'" Franchot said. "I said, 'That's OK, it just goes to show that he's feeling fine."

"For him, politics was personal. It was emotional. It was all about loyalty and service," Franchot added.

Franchot said Schaefer's style "is disappearing from politics these days. Things are getting so scientific and digital."

Schaefer once called the Eastern Shore a less polite name for an outhouse, referred to women as "little girls" and once publicly complained about a fast food clerk who was not a native English speaker who had trouble taking his breakfast order.

Marylanders found the controversy endearing, he said.

"They understand that politicians don't say the things he did," said Franchot, who compared Schaefer to Winston Churchill.

"They were both lions," he said. "(Churchill) also got dumped by the voters. That's what happens to great leaders in democracies. They just find themselves on the wrong side of the political mood from time to time."

Schaefer's friend Gene Raynor used to travel with Schaefer every year for nearly five decades to Florida and various European nations, especially Italy. One of Schaefer's quirks: "He liked to visit cemeteries," Raynor said.

"In England, we visited Winston Churchill," he said.

But no matter where he went, no matter what office he held, Schaefer was always thinking about helping Baltimore, Raynor said. The former governor always stayed involved in city politics through a group of influential people, including baking magnate John Paterakis, that he called his "Roundtable." The group would endorse and raise money for candidates, including in 1999 a young mayoral candidate named Martin O'Malley.

"Schaefer was an amazing guy," Raynor said. "I think that he was very forthright and very honest and said what he wanted to say at anytime. He didn’t do it for the politics of it. He did it because he believed in it. He was an unusual person."

Gov. Ehrlich agreed.

Ehrlich said Schaefer's compassion and dedication to public service likely came from his family and "growing up without a whole lot of money."

He said Schaefer ultimately came to be "identified with blue collar Baltimore."

But Schaefer's plain spoken, politically incorrect style that endeared him to people "in the end caught up to him."

"I don't think that will be his legacy or how he will be remembered," Ehrlich said. "He got away with a lot because he had two loves—Baltimore City and the state of Maryland. People always knew where he was operating from. There was never a doubt."

Gov. Ehrlich said he knew how to work Schaefer for a vote when they both served on the Board of Public Works: by offering him cake from his wife Kendel and their son Josh.

"I had three ways to get a vote. If it was a regular vote, I brought him one of those cakes from the mansion that they make that he really loved," he said. "If it was a tough vote, I'd have Kendel come over and talk to him and she'd say, 'Now be nice to my husband.' And on a really tough vote ... I'd bring over Kendel and a cake and Josh.

"He knew what I was doing and he loved it," Ehrlich said. "And, of course, he was going to do what he wanted to do anyway."

Here's what local officials were saying about Schaefer's life:

"William Donald Schaefer was the the greatest Maryland political figure of the 20th century," said Haven Shoemaker, Carroll County Commissioner, District 2. "And, I don't say that just because he was my hero. He said that he wanted, 'He cared,' on his tombstone. He certainly did, and there will never be another Willie Don."

"The passing of William Donald Schaefer marks the end of an era in Maryland politics," said Doug Howard, Carroll County Commissioner, District 5. "He was a great public servant with a character that transcended policy and party. He has left an indelible mark on the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland."

The Baltimore Sun published a nine-page online obituary of Schaefer that can be found here.

A mass will be held 11 a.m. Wednesday at Old St. Paul's Church and Schaefer will be laid to rest at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in a mausoleum he purchased for he and his former girlfriend, Hilda Mae Snoops, who died in 1999, according to his former press secretary Mike Golden and another lifelong friend, Gene Raynor.

Arlynne M. Dickson April 19, 2011 at 03:16 AM
His name was William to me. I have met him many times in my lifetime. His personality of caring and providing for his Baltimore people was very dear to him. I remember I was having dinner with my husband on the boat dock. He was already having his dinner. I said to my husband I have got to talk to him. I said William I want to thank you for listening to the people and taking care of Baltimore for me. Then I went and sat down at my table. He left before me and stopped at my table and I introduce him to my husband. He said " I want to thank you for your words. You made my evening and helping me make an important decision ." I am so glad I spoke to him and never forgot his words. Walk to the pearly gates William. I can see William and my husband talking now. Thy work is done . Arlynne


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