The many friends and relatives of former Prince George’s County executive Wayne K. Curry were determined that their final farewell would not be a somber occasion. It just wasn’t Wayne’s way. So, instead, for two hours, they shared stories and laughs and a little bit of “Wayne’s World.”
Elected leaders, friends and colleagues recalled Curry’s tenacity, fearlessness and unabashed advocacy for the betterment of Prince George’s County. They remembered his candor, his convictions and his occasional use of colorful language to get his point across. And many wondered aloud what the world will be like without Wayne Curry in it.
“He had a unique voice and a unique way,” said U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.). “With Wayne you never had a meeting, you had an encounter. . . . And when you met with Wayne and if you didn’t have an outcome, you would be out and you wouldn’t be invited to come again.”
The First Baptist Church of Glenarden erupted in laughter.
Curry, who served two terms as the county’s first black chief executive, helped transform Prince George’s into one of the most affluent majority-black communities in the nation after he was elected in 1994. He died July 2 at age 63 after a year-long battle with lung cancer.
“He was our blazing talent, our symbol of vitality,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), a close friend who considered Curry a key mentor. “He set the agenda for this county.”
More than 100 current and former county and state leaders attended the funeral, part of a crowd of more than 2,500. In addition to Mikulski, the many Democratic elected officials on hand included Gov. Martin O’Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Mikulski and U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett.
Lawrence J. Hogan Sr., a former Prince George’s County executive and Republican member of Congress, also was there, as was his son, Larry Hogan Jr., the current GOP gubernatorial nominee.
Curry, dressed in a charcoal-gray suit with a Prince George’s County pin on his left lapel, lay in a cherry wood coffin with a bed of red roses beneath. Close friends and family wore replicas of old red, black and blue campaign stickers that said “Elect Wayne Curry County Executive.”
“We’ve come to celebrate an incredible individual who had an impact on so many lives,” said John K. Jenkins, pastor of First Baptist of Glenarden. “Let’s thank God for bringing Wayne Curry to Prince George’s County . . . . We are so much better because he was in this county. Not only is this county better, this region is better.”
David Michael, senior vice president of the development firm NAI Michael, where Curry was the president, said his boss patched up old rifts and forgave past transgressions as he neared death. Michael said he and his family prayed for a miracle that would cure Curry, without realizing “the miracle was Wayne.”
Curry’s 20-year-old son, Julian — sitting in the front row next to his sister, Taylor, 18, and mother, Sheila — used a white handkerchief to wipe his eyes.
But friends, colleagues and family also smiled in recognition as speakers described how Curry had his own way of doing things.
O’Malley remembered a time when he was mayor of Baltimore, and Curry was county executive and was “explaining the world according to Wayne,” in which he elaborated why the two jurisdictions should work together.
“In Baltimore, you have history and no money. In Prince George’s, we have lots of money and no history,” O’Malley recalled Curry saying.
Daryl E. Curry stopped mid-sentence during his remarks about his younger brother and pretended to answer his cellphone. It was, he said, a call from St. Peter.
“Sometimes [Wayne] sees things and he thinks they need to be addressed,” Daryl Curry joked during the feigned phone call. “No, no — don’t send him down there.”
Again the audience roared.
Thursday’s service, which included the reading of condolence letters from President Obama and former President Bill Clinton, culminated a two-day farewell for Curry. He lay in repose Wednesday at the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro, where he began his career in public service as an aide to former County Executive Winfield Kelly.
Before the funeral, close friend and former Prince George’s County Council member Dorothy Bailey said Curry was an example of the new generation of African American leaders she and others who marched in the civil right movement hoped for.
“He was what we envisioned and what we dreamed,” Bailey said. “He used his brilliance to improve his community.”
Hollis Stringfield, who used to live in Mitchellville, snapped a picture of Curry’s portrait that stood in the foyer of the church. Stringfield said Curry helped her cleaning company secure a county contract, just like how he had helped so many other minority-owned businesses.
“He opened doors for a lot of people,” said Stringfield who travelled from Norfolk, Va., for the service.
Prince George’s State’s attorney Angela Alsobrooks said she first met Curry in the poorly lit back booth of a Bowie restaurant he called his “second office.” Curry grilled the attorney for hours about her ambitions. “He was like the godfather,” she said.
But aside from his political prowess, close friend and former roommate Gregory K. Wells recalled a friend with a “pure, genuine heart.” During their decades-long friendship, Curry imparted wisdom without prompting on everything from nature to his vision for the future, Wells said.
Alsobrooks, who spent time with Curry in his final days, said he left “a good amount for us to go forward” and “made clear his expectations.”
Perry A. Smith III, Curry’s pastor, said he met with Curry about three months ago and the two men discussed details of the funeral. In a later phone call, Curry talked about specific passages of scripture with Smith. The former county executive made clear that he wanted Smith to preach about Job and his suffering at the funeral service. And so Smith did.
“I didn’t have a choice,” he said.
Hamil R. Harris and John Wagner contributed to this report.