Service Pays Tribute to Britt's Work in the Community

By Ovetta Wiggins and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 24, 2008

Members of the local political community were still visibly shaken by the sudden death of state Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt as they gathered last Friday at Reid Temple AME Church in Glenn Dale to pay tribute to her life.

About 900 people, including Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), and other local and state elected officials, attended the services for the two-term senator, who died Jan. 12 after being rushed to Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham.

Among those present at the services were two U.S. senators, three congressmen, a former congressman, a governor and a former governor. Noticeably absent was Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert). Miller's spokeswoman said he had a prior obligation in Florida and had left Thursday night.

"That was especially one of the reasons why we had a memoriam" Thursday, spokeswoman Lisa Fulton said. Britt's family attended the service in the Senate chamber, followed by a reception in the Senate lounge, Fulton said.

The service featured songs that captured Britt's spirit, such as "If I Can Help Somebody" and "Lean on Me." Many who attended knew about Britt's public life, including her fight against injustice and her work in the community.

Britt, 66, a member of the Senate since 2003, was recently elected chairman of the Prince George's County Senate Delegation. She had been assistant deputy majority leader since 2007 and had served on the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review and the Joint Committee on Access to Mental Health Services.

"She was a leader long before her years in the Senate," O'Malley said during remarks, referring to Britt's participation in protests at Glen Echo Park in 1960 and her work as a Freedom Rider.

But most did not know the private side of Britt. Her son shared stories about how she went white-water rafting and enjoyed funk music.

Before the service, Sylvester Vaughns, a member of the Prince George's County Planning Board, talked about her devotion to her husband of 46 years, Travis Britt. "They were just a beautiful couple that got along so well," Vaughns said. "They were always together."

While her family and the political community continue to mourn, steps are being taken to decide who will finish the rest of Britt's term.

The Prince George's Democratic Central Committee plans to meet Wednesday to take up the issue.

Britt's legislative colleagues from the 47th district -- Delegates Victor R. Ramirez, Jolene Ivey and Doyle L. Niemann-- are among the contenders for the position.

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