Four hours before William Donald Schaefer was to be driven in a hearse past his boyhood home on his final journey through the city that was his family, a Baltimore municipal trash truck made an extra pass down Edgewood Street to collect the garbage.
A street sweeper spruced up the pavement, the police checked that everything was just so, and two men from City Hall stepped up to Paula Deadwyler’s porch to attach a flagpole and raise Maryland’s colors.
Other city workers brought Deadwyler, who bought 620 Edgewood from Schaefer in 1998, a basket of African violets, instructing her to hold the flowers when the mayor’s coffin passed by because violets were his favorite. On Monday, as throughout the life of the four-term mayor and two-term governor, everbody working for him knew their job was to “Do It NOW.”
That injunction, in the mayor’s urgently scrawling hand, is now inscribed in bronze in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, where a statue of Schaefer — another stop on Monday’s farewell tour — presides over the city’s premier tourist attraction.
Schaefer, who died April 18 at 89, drew crowds all around his city Monday, not only because he was a master builder in an era when many major U.S. cities were collapsing into physical and social decay, but also because he was a politician who never seemed to stray from the neighborhoods and people he first represented as a city councilman in the 1950s.
“It was still white people up here when my parents moved in,” said Melody Sayre, a bus coach driver who lives a few doors down from the old Schaefer house in a neighborhood that is now almost entirely black. “Schaefer would come by to talk to my mom about the issues, and I looked at him as a role model, a father figure. He was a down-home, good person. He would get on you about not keeping your property up, but you knew he was for the right things. Even now, I tell the youngsters to keep their pants up — they know I expect that, and they respect it.”
Sayre, Deadwyler and 300 of their neighbors crowded onto the narrow sidewalks just after 3 p.m. to watch as a long procession of city and state police vehicles led the honor guard for Schaefer’s hearse. The motorcade halted in front of Deadwyler’s house, the tour’s first stop, and a delegation of the mayor’s friends stepped out to greet people.
“There are no more politicians like him,” said Deadwyler, 51, who admires the way Schaefer and his mother kept up the hardwood floors in the slender four-bedroom rowhouse they passed on to her. “Everybody’s out for their own now. But Schaefer built things — I go down there to the harbor, and I love the water taxi, the duck bus, all that. Makes me proud.”
“Thanks for bringing him home,” Margaret Bracy, 74, called out to Schaefer’s friends and colleagues as they shook hands and traded hugs with her neighbors. Bracy lived one block up from Schaefer, and her two boys delivered the newspaper to his home and cut his grass. “He was honest, and he spoke his mind. A lot of people don’t like for you to be outspoken, but we appreciated it from him because we knew he was honest.”
From the Inner Harbor to Baltimore’s baseball and football stadiums to Lexington Market — institutions that Schaefer either got built or saved from the wrecking ball — residents and visitors gathered to say goodbye to the irascible, impatient leader who transformed their city as mayor from 1971 to 1987. He later kept Baltimore the focus of the state’s attention and spending as governor from 1987 to 1995, even as the Washington suburbs surpassed the city as Maryland’s most populous region.
In the Washington area, Schaefer was known mainly as an eccentric, a governor given to funny hats, mocking faces and brutally honest cracks. In the constellation of colorful rogues who dominated the region’s news in the ’80s and ’90s, he was the lesser star beside Washington’s Marion Barry and Virginia’s Doug Wilder.
In those years, Schaefer could win over Marylanders in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties with a single but hefty dose of his “Do It NOW” politics, ordering a road construction blitz that cut the maddening summertime drive to the Eastern Shore beaches by an hour or more.
But in Baltimore, the four-term mayor and two-time governor was something completely different, an idealized, idolized reflection of the city’s self-image as a gritty, fun-loving, blue-collar town that had more than its share of troubles but somehow managed to do big things.
Schaefer was, said Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), “a man who was always impatient with excuses but had all the time in the world for a citizen who needed help.”
One of those citizens, Juanita Cage Lewis, who works as a customer service manager at the state Department of Housing and Community Development, made it her business to be first in the queue of about 75 mourners who waited for Schaefer’s motorcade early Monday in Annapolis, where the late governor lay in state at the State House before the tour through Baltimore.
Cage Lewis was working in Annapolis in 1994, toward the end of Schaefer’s tenure as governor, when she received word that her mother was undergoing major surgery in Cumberland, more than 150 miles to the west. With a major blizzard on the way and her mother’s life very much at stake, Cage Lewis needed help. She told her department head about her problem, and very soon thereafter, she got a call from the governor himself.
“He says, ‘Little girl, we’re going to get you home,’ ” recalled Cage Lewis, 62.
A state trooper arrived to drive her to the hospital.
Cage Lewis’s mother lived another year. When she died, Schaefer sent a personal note.
On Monday, Cage Lewis returned the tribute. “I’m here on behalf of my family to pay my respects,” she said.
In Annapolis, O’Malley and four former governors — Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), Parris N. Glendening (D), Harry Hughes (D) and Marvin Mandel (D) — greeted Schaefer’s coffin, which was draped with an American flag. The Baltimore Ravens marching band welcomed the hearse at City Hall, and at Harborplace, restaurant and shop workers gathered to pay their respects. But at every stop throughout the day, ordinary people far outnumbered officials.
“This place was nothing,” said Doris Korb, who worked in a downtown office in the 1970s, when the city’s waterfront was a collection of grungy and abandoned docks. “He made it fun to be here.”
At Lexington Market, one of six old-school produce and meat markets that survive in Baltimore in good part because Schaefer insisted that old-fashioned marketplaces were essential to maintaining strong neighborhoods, shopkeepers still have galleries of photos of their mayor’s visits.
“He came to shop every week, and he told his police to wait two blocks away,” said Fannie Houvardas, who has worked for 30 years making and selling cakes at the Bergers bakery stand. “He came to listen” — and to buy the shop’s legendary Berger chocolate iced cookies and poundcake.
One day soon after Houvardas had brought her mother over from Greece to live in Baltimore, Schaefer came upon the new arrival as she sold honey balls at the market.
“Who is that?” the mayor asked.
“My mom,” Houvardas said proudly, and she proceeded to tell the mayor that her mother was thrilled to be in America but needed health insurance.
“The next day, he sent a Greek guy over to my house and get her insurance. The next day! That’s what kind of man he was. Somebody to remember.”
Bill Devine, who with his wife, Nancy, has run Faidley Seafood in the market since 1967, keeps dozens of Schaefer photos on display — the mayor with Ethel Kennedy, with Walter Mondale, with the shop’s workers. As the procession passed by Monday, Devine stepped outside to ring the bell that used to signal the opening of Lexington Market each morning.
“He didn’t cotton to mediocrity,” Devine said of the mayor. “These days, people are fed up with politicians because you can’t get a straight answer from them. Schaefer listened. He had what he called think tanks. They would invite different people — always different people from different social strata, different groups — to somebody’s house for din-din, and each table would get a subject and they’d have to beat that subject to death. Could be schools, crime, taxes, whatever. And then William Donald would get up and go table by table and ask: ‘Okay, what did you say? What did you decide?’ And that’s how he’d learn what decisions to make.”
“The city was his family,” Nancy Faidley Devine said. “He dedicated his life to it, and in return, the city kept him living.”
Schaefer, who never married and had no children (though he was close for decades with Hilda Mae Snoops, who served as his official hostess in Annapolis and died in 1999), could be downright derisive of much of the rest of Maryland. He famously dismissed the Eastern Shore with a foul epithet that brought angry demonstrators to his doorstep. In later years, when reminded that the D.C. suburbs had become the state’s largest population center, Schaefer responded by sticking out his tongue and holding his nose.
But at home in Baltimore, he became a symbol of a time when politics was a path to progress, not a dirty word.
On Edgewood Street, when his hearse pulled up at the old house, adults brought their children into the street and asked whether the boys and girls could touch the window that separated them from the coffin.
“Sure,” said the man from the funeral home, and so they did, one by one, the grandmothers and the little ones, light, graceful touches of farewell and friendship.
“He gave me my first job,” Bracy said. It was a cleaning position at the courthouse. “It was 1969. You had to know people in the city to get into the system, and he got me in. I stayed till I retired from the City Hospital.”
Up on the porch of 620, Paula Deadwyler, who had gotten her black funeral dress out for the occasion, beamed with pride as the officials admired her flowers.
The men from the city would be back in a couple of hours to collect the flag and flagpole. “But I hope I get to keep the violets,” she said. “I think Mr. Schaefer would have let me keep the violets.”
Staff writer John Wagner in Annapolis and Baltimore contributed to this report.