Schaefer's Milestone Highlights Common Dilemma

By Mary Otto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 4, 2008

It was a highly public version of a drama that has touched many families. Former Maryland governor William Donald Schaefer, 86, famously stubborn and growing increasingly frail, refused to move out of his Pasadena townhouse.

After a fall in March, some friends and associates worried that he was no longer safe living on his own.

So longtime aide Lainy LeBow-Sachs devised a ruse. While she kept Schaefer busy over a long lunch at a restaurant last month, movers descended on the townhouse, packed up all his belongings and reinstalled them in an apartment at the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville.

Schaefer, who was initially angry about the deception, has, according to some accounts, settled into his new place. A bachelor, he has no family to agonize over the move, but within his inner circle , there are mixed feelings. Schaefer did not return calls for comment.

The complex emotions surrounding this milestone in the life of a man who spent decades in the public eye -- as state comptroller, two-term governor and four-term mayor of Baltimore -- are familiar to experts who have helped families weigh these choices with elderly loved ones.

"We call these ethical dilemmas," said Kelley Macmillan, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, who has studied aging for more than 20 years. Sometimes the decision is made in a collaborative way, and at other times the choice to move is delegated, by necessity or default, to another person. LeBow-Sachs has power of attorney for Schaefer.

As the first wave of 80 million baby boomers heads toward retirement, the percentage of residents 65 and older is expected to double in many Washington area communities in the next 20 years. The shift mirrors what is happening nationally. Many lawmakers, public policy experts and municipal planners are trying to anticipate how to meet the changing housing and health-care needs of a growing population of elderly residents.

At the heart of such change is the need to weigh the loss of a loved one's freedom against the benefits of a more structured environment. That loss often stirs fear.

"People believe they will be prisoners," Macmillan said.

If those concerns contributed to Schaefer's resistance to moving, he appeared to make light of them at a lunch Thursday in Baltimore with old friend Edwin F. Hale, chairman and chief executive of 1st Mariner Bank.

"I go into my room, and they lock the door," Schaefer told Hale, describing life at his new place.

"Are you kidding?" Hale asked.

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