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Schaefer remembered as agent of change at Baltimore funeral full of admirers

By and and Ann E. Marimow,

William Donald Schaefer was remembered for both his accomplishments and quirkiness during a two-hour funeral Wednesday that featured choirs, a military band and other pomp befitting a Maryland political legend.

But those who spoke from the ornate sanctuary of Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Baltimore told the 800 people in the pews — and the many more watching live on television — that there was a simple lesson to take away from Schaefer’s storied career.

The former Maryland governor, comptroller and Baltimore mayor “would not want us to dwell on the past,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), one of three friends who eulogized Schaefer. “He would ask, ‘What are you going to do to help somebody today?’ . . . He knew each and every one of us could make a difference. He’d want us to make a change, and he’d want us to do it now.”

The service drew a mix of Maryland’s political elite — including Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and three of his predecessors — city and state workers, former Schaefer aides and other assorted admirers. Some did little to hide their affection. One man in the pews clutched a framed and signed photo of Schaefer; a woman wore a T-shirt under her jacket proclaiming, “Love you, Willie Don.”

Both inside and outside the historic church lined with stained-glass windows, people said that Schaefer brought the same passion to public-works projects — including several that helped turn Baltimore’s blighted Inner Harbor into a tourist attraction — as he did to helping an ordinary citizen get a pothole filled.

“We in public service ought to take a page out of his book,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) told reporters. “Start first with caring about people, and let everything else follow.”

Wednesday’s service capped an elaborate three-day tribute that also included public viewings of Schaefer’s casket in the State House in Annapolis and in City Hall in Baltimore — as well as a tour of Baltimore landmarks and neighborhoods.

Shortly before the funeral, a police-escorted procession that included a riderless horse accompanied Schaefer’s hearse for the short journey from City Hall to the church.

The service was punctuated with laughter as friends shared stories about the unpredictable outbursts and unusual management style of the four-term mayor and two-term governor, who died April 18. It was not until the recessional, led by a bagpiper and capped by the “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” that the mood turned somber.

Of the three speakers who offered reflections on Schaefer during the service, there was the most buzz surrounding Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and NAACP leader.

Mfume is rumored to be considering a bid this year for mayor of Baltimore, a city that still faces great challenges on education, crime and other issues, particularly in many of its poor neighborhoods outside downtown. Speaking with reporters, Mfume did nothing to tamp down the speculation.

During the service, he recalled adversarial days with Schaefer, when Mfume was a City Council member and Schaefer was mayor. Schaefer would call Mfume “Councilman Muffin.” Mfume would call him “Mayor So What.”

“No one irritated me more than him, and no one irritated him more than me,” Mfume said.

“Well, maybe Parris Glendening,” Mfume quickly added, drawing the largest laughter of the service at the mention of Schaefer’s successor as governor. The two frequently sparred when Schaefer later became comptroller.

Glendening did not attend.

Later in their political careers, Mfume and Schaefer became political allies, and Mfume said he came to “revere” Schaefer.

“Don Schaefer was a person who changed politics,” Mfume said. “He put a human face on it. He made it real. . . . We honor him by holding on to his example of public service and excellence.”

Lainy LeBow-Sachs, a longtime aide who became Schaefer’s closest friend later in life, offered the most personal portrait of a “really complicated” man.

When Shaefer took his final breaths last week, LeBow-Sachs was there holding his hand. The two met 32 years ago when she worked for him at City Hall.

“I thought that he didn’t even know I existed, but then came the first time he yelled at me, slammed the door and would not talk to me for a week,” she said. “In some strange way, I knew right then and there that he liked me, even if he had an odd way of showing it.”

Although Schaefer, who never married or had children, did not have a traditional family, his “nontraditional family” was immense, LeBow-Sachs said, referring to his staff. “We truly were his children.”

“If you had one shred of untapped potential, he would find it and pull it out of you,” she said.

After the funeral service, Schaefer’s body was taken to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium, where his remains were interred in a vault inside a mausoleum alongside his longtime companion, Hilda Mae Snoops, who died in 1999. 

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