In a Time of Loss, A Push to Move On

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By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Montgomery County Council is not only mourning the death last week of longtime member Marilyn Praisner, it is struggling to assess the impact of her loss on the council's policymaking.

Praisner, 66, died after complications from surgery to replace two heart valves. A former CIA analyst, school board member and PTA activist, she was the longest-serving member of the current council as well as the longest-serving woman in council history.

Council President Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty) said members would limit the council schedule in the early part of the week so that they could pay their respects and visit Praisner's family members, who had scheduled viewing hours and a prayer service before her private interment.

"We are still trying to figure out what this means and get our heads around the fact that we don't have Marilyn anymore," said Knapp, who succeeded Praisner late last year as council president.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Silver Spring. There will be several speakers, including County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and former school board member Sharon DiFonzo, one of Praisner's closest friends. The congregation's folk group of about 15 singers, as well as other musicians, will perform, said Praisner's daughter, Alison Klumpp.

"That was Mom's direction," Klumpp said. "She wanted it to be a celebration of life and be a happy event."

Praisner, who served 17 years on the council and eight years on the county school board, was widely known for her attention to detail and her deep knowledge of the inner workings of government. In her day job, until she was elected to the council, she was one of a few women to rise in the ranks at the CIA.

Praisner also was active in national government organizations. Her office walls are filled with citations for her work on a range of issues, including health care, technology, budgeting and growth and development. She also had several quotations taped to the walls, including some that urged her not to take herself too seriously. An "Alice in Wonderland" poster recounts a conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat as she struggles to find her way through a forest: "Would you tell me, please, which way I might go from here?" Alice asks. "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," the cat replies.

Council member Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large), one of dozens of politicians and local activists, many of them women, whom Praisner mentored, said she is "going to miss her every day. She was a dear friend and somebody I had come to respect and love a great deal."

Trachtenberg said that before Praisner entered the hospital for surgery, Praisner left Trachtenberg a detailed memo of issues she might want to examine in the next several weeks while Praisner recuperated.

Praisner's death also leaves a gap in the council's knowledge of the arcana of land use, one of many issues she had come to know well. She was largely responsible for the passage of last year's growth policy and was regarded as a reliable sounding board for community groups and others who were worried about the nexus among growth, economic development and the needs and desires of older neighborhoods.

Former council member Howard Denis said he found Praisner's knowledge of county issues and her willingness to share it invaluable.


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