Every office has a man like Malcolm Shaneman, the serious problem-solver who is also a master of mischief.
As a land planner with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Shaneman navigated the high-pressure, high-profit interests of residents and developers. Since 1998, he had been master planner in charge of subdivision reviews for Montgomery County, overseeing hundreds of plans annually.
In the late 1990s, homeowners in the White Oak neighborhood of Silver Spring protested the development of green space that was essentially their back yard. As a solution, Shaneman successfully proposed a 50-foot buffer of trees -- 20 more than was the required minimum to qualify as forestland. Soon after, his number became county law.
If a builder complained about losing two homes as part of a development, he'd respond, "You don't lose what you ain't got." As in, you don't have any homes anyway until your plan gets approved by the commission, which usually accepted Shaneman's recommendations.
Shaneman, 51, died April 14 after a heart attack. His colleagues mourned more than the loss of his expertise. They also recalled fondly his ability to amuse and confound them with a series of pranks that lightened the tense tempo of their demanding jobs.
A dashing 6-foot-4, Shaneman loped around the office like the athlete he once was. He scouted for disarming ways to tease and taunt those who were part of his repertory group of willing victims.
Callum Murray, park and planning team leader for the Potomac area, said he was once called to the planning commission to testify at an important hearing. As he answered the vice chairman, he literally had a sinking feeling. Manipulating a hidden hydraulic lever, Shaneman had lowered Murray's seat height so his chin was just above the level of the table.
"I felt like a dwarf playing a piano," Murray said.
Shaneman also called co-workers after gluing their telephone receivers to the set. Returning from a work site visit, he put woodchips and other found objects in people's jacket pockets to jolt them with extra weight when they put them on.
He hid cleaning sprays, brooms and entire work carts on other floors of his office building in Silver Spring, prompting a chorus of questions from the maintenance staff: "Malcolm, where's my [fill in object]?"
Everyone knew the culprit, who responded with deadpan high dudgeon: "How dare you accuse me!"
Richard Weaver, a subdivision coordinator at park and planning, said Shaneman's antics were appreciated. "We are an extremely productive office," he said, "and his humor and his pranks helped us get through very stressful times."
Perhaps surprisingly, Shaneman was always immaculately tailored. He wore overstarched dress shirts -- he starched them even after they had been starched at the cleaners -- and needled people whose clothing was in the least bit creased. Joseph R. Davis, his former boss, remembered Shaneman asking co-workers with a feigned gruffness, "Who helped you get dressed this morning?"
One secretary liked to stick her finger in Shaneman's pen pocket, to break the starch cling. On his birthday, he received spray starch from colleagues.
Albert Malcolm Shaneman was born in Washington and raised in Bethesda. He was the only child of a Navy Department civilian and his English-born bride, who liked serving high tea and listening to the queen's speeches over the radio.
He was a graduate of Walter Johnson High School and attended Montgomery College, where he was a hurdler on the track team. He loved traveling to Austria for aggressive downhill skiing that included being dropped from helicopters onto the slopes.
His parents began to insist that he pursue a career, and he became a clerk messenger at park and planning in 1973. The next year, he was a draftsman. After several more promotions, he had oversight on building permits.
At the commission, he met his companion of the last 20 years, Barbara Preller, who described Shaneman as a charismatic man who was never idle and always searched for a new activity. He drove a Harley-Davidson motorcycle but shunned the leather look for a polo shirt and jeans.
"They were nice jeans, and they were pressed," Preller said. "He was not your average Harley driver."
He was constantly painting and sanding his 31-foot powerboat cabin cruiser -- named Whatever -- sewing his own boat covers and draperies and tinkering with his boat engines. A joke among friends was that for all his labor with the boat, he never caught a single fish.
Shaneman liked it when someone matched him with a joke. He was delighted when he was upstaged by the 2-year-old son of his former boss. When someone said to the youngster, "My, you're a big boy. Where do you get your height?" the boy thought of the tallest man he knew and said, "From Malcolm."
Years later, Shaneman attended the boy's baseball games. When the young man got a hit, Shaneman would stand and cheer, "That's my boy!"