Former Montgomery County Council president William E. Hanna Jr. dies at 89

William Hanna was key in making the I-270 area a biotech center.
William Hanna was key in making the I-270 area a biotech center. (Joel Richardson)
  Enlarge Photo    
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 18, 2011; 6:02 PM

William E. Hanna Jr., 89, a former Montgomery County Council president and fixture in county politics who played a key role in turning the Interstate 270 corridor into a center for biotechnology companies, died Jan. 15 at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. He had congestive heart failure.

Mr. Hanna, a retired federal employee, entered local Democratic elective politics in the late 1960s as a member of the Rockville City Council. He went on to serve four terms as mayor, from 1974 to 1982, before he was elected to the County Council. He served on the council until 1998, including three times as president.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Hanna was instrumental in working with then-County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist (D) to create the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center, a research and industrial park devoted to biomedical and health-care research.

"Bill pioneered the County's investment in life sciences which directly led to our preeminent position as one of the world's leading biotech centers," County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who had served with Mr. Hanna on the County Council, said in a statement.

Mr. Hanna, who represented central Montgomery on the council, also helped pass a catastrophic health-care insurance package for county employees and was a champion of the arts and affordable housing.

He sponsored legislation that required art installations in newly constructed public buildings and was a supporter of Montgomery's Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit Program, which requires developers of new housing to set aside units for low-income families.

He also advocated for aggressive rezoning policies to allow for more affordable housing, said former county executive Douglas M. Duncan (D).

"Many times he was sort of a lone voice out there," Duncan said. "He wouldn't go along to get along, he would stand on principle."

Described in The Washington Post as "the cranky old uncle of the county's political family," Mr. Hanna once suggested that government keep watch over teachers by placing cameras in classrooms.

He governed from the gut, said former Democratic chairman Mike Gildea in a 1994 interview with The Post. "If there was ever a movie written about Bill, I'd call it 'Basic Instincts.' "

The article noted that Mr. Hanna described himself as a fiscal conservative who favored economic development and who fostered a pro-business environment. He lost the 1998 Democratic primary to Phil Andrews (Gaithersburg-Rockville), the former head of the public interest group Common Cause of Maryland, who criticized Mr. Hanna for his positions on development.

William Eugene Hanna Jr. was born Jan. 25, 1921, in Chicago. His mother died when he was young, and he was raised mostly by his father, a grocery store manager.

Mr. Hanna received an associate's degree in physical science from Woodrow Wilson Junior College in Chicago before serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II. He later served in the Air Force Reserve, retiring as a lieutenant colonel, and in the Air Force Auxiliary.

Mr. Hanna received a bachelor's degree in 1947 from Bradley University in Illinois and a master's degree in economics from George Washington University in 1951.

His civil service career began in the late 1940s. Over the years, he worked with the Defense Department in St. Louis and later in the Baltimore-Washington area for NASA and the Social Security Administration. He retired in the early 1980s as the Social Security Administration's director of data processing.

Survivors include his wife of 62 years, Annette Anthony Hanna of Rockville; seven daughters, Sharon V. Bladen of Hamilton, Mont., Karen M. Indyk of Jamesburg, N.J., Patrice M. Hanna of Clarksburg, Kathleen H. Copmann of Estero, Fla., Mary L. Cross of Laytonsville, Teri S. Knowles of Ashton, and Jeanette G. Freeland of Frederick; 15 grandchildren; and two great-granddaughters.

Mr. Hanna enjoyed acting and had appeared in several local theater productions when a colleague dared him to audition for a part in a movie being shot in St. Louis.

He landed a bit part in "Hoodlum Priest," based on a man who ministered to street gangs. The film was released in 1961 and starred Don Murray. Mr. Hanna played a bailiff.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company