The ceremony at the red-brick church in Silver Spring yesterday followed a pattern that Blair Lee III, a product of history and a contributor to it in Maryland, would have well appreciated.
Under the same roof where, about a year ago, Blair Lee III had eulogized his father, E. Brooke Lee, before some of Maryland's most powerful politicians, Blair Lee IV stepped to the lectern to do the same.
"His goals and values were those of duty, history and strong family service . . . . He was more concerned with common sense and candor than political philosophy," Lee said of his father, a former acting governor of Maryland who died of cancer Friday at 69.
In devoting himself to public service, Blair Lee III met what some might have described as destiny: He was the great-great-grandson of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a descendant of Robert E. Lee and the son of a former speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, secretary of state and comptroller.
"Dad didn't just have ancestors. He had predecessors," Blair Lee IV said.
He represented Montgomery County in both houses of the Maryland legislature, served in the state cabinet, and in 1977 and 1978, was acting governor.
Those who witnessed his service, which began in 1955 with his first term in the House of Delegates, filled the aisles of Grace Episcopal Church yesterday to honor it.
"He was a real student of government," said Gov. Harry R. Hughes, who defeated Lee in the Democratic primary in 1978. "He was in government for what he could contribute and what he could produce, not fanfare."
"Blair Lee was the consummate statesman," said Marvin Mandel, the governor who was convicted in 1977 of political corruption charges and the man Lee replaced.
"He was devoted to government . . . . His legacy will be with us for many generations," Mandel said.
"He was very much a man of government," said state Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, a candidate for governor, "not politics, really . . . . His passion was to make [government] work. And that's a great legacy for us who make it our career."
As his son recounted yesterday, Blair Lee III grew up in Silver Spring. A member of one of the nation's oldest political families, the young Lee was lulled to sleep by stories of presidents and campaigns, war and peace.
As a young man, Lee studied at Princeton University and, not surprisingly, chose history as his major. In 1938, he wrote a senior thesis entitled "The Free Soil Movement in the 1840s." It was based on correspondence he found hidden in the storage chests of his great-great-grandfather, letters exchanged between Richard Henry Lee and his associates James Polk, Martin Van Buren and Andrew Jackson. That bond to his ancestry and sense of service led him to the legislature. He was appointed Maryland's secretary of state in 1969 and became the state's first lieutenant governor in 1970.
His political career came to an end in 1978 when he ran for his own term as governor, after replacing Mandel, and lost the primary.
"If he wasn't good at politics, he was at government," Blair Lee IV said during the ceremony. Outside the church, the son smiled when questioned again about his father. "He didn't talk a whole lot. I think he was content to set the example and be quiet."