The mournful notes of a lone bagpiper trembled as Prince George’s County police carried the casket of former executive Wayne K. Curry into the county administration building where he will lie in repose Wednesday.
Several hundred people, including police and firefighters, lined a brick path early in the day as the closed casket, draped in the white and red county flag, was placed on a red carpet inside the Upper Marlboro building among a bed of red roses.
Curry, the first African American to lead Prince George’s, was remembered by friends and colleagues during a brief ceremony. The 63-year-old died July 2 after a battle with lung cancer.
“He was my refuge,” said current County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who regarded Curry as an intimate friend to his family and administration. “He was an unapologetic defender of his hometown, Prince George’s County.”
Curry’s casket will lie in the building lobby until 7 p.m., officials said. A funeral service will be held Thursday at First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Upper Marlboro. Public viewing will begin at 9:30 a.m. and the service at 11 a.m., they said.
Curry was first elected in 1994 and quickly sought to change perceptions of the county by demanding high-quality development that would elevate Prince George’s to prominence. He negotiated deals to bring FedExField, National Harbor and other major projects to a once-obscure Washington suburb.
Friends and colleagues say Curry was an expert change agent who understood the county, its culture and its politics better than most. He was zealous about his goals and bulldozed through obstacles. At times, his manner could be brusque but his convictions were irrefutable.
“I liked the way Wayne could look in your eyes and talk to you,” said Charles Sprow, who began working for the Department of Housing and Community Development during Curry’s administration. “He was a straight shooter and told you exactly what was on his mind.
For many of those currently in power in Prince George’s, Curry was their first teacher, fervent cheerleader and critic.
“We have lost a giant,” said County Council Chair Mel Franklin as tears spilled from his eyes. He looked over to Curry’s wife, Sheila Mills Curry, and two children, Julian and Taylor, seated to the right of casket. “We owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude. Thank you for sharing him with us.”
Franklin is one of several elected officials who credit Curry with having jump-started their political careers.
Sen. Joanne Benson (D-Prince George’s) said that while she was still a school principal, Curry nudged her to run for the General Assembly in 1990. She refused. And refused.
A week before the filing deadline, she said, he called to ask if Benson would agree to go on a ride with him in his Mercedes convertible. They headed north on U.S. 50 but Curry kept their destination a mystery, “We’re just going for a ride,” Benson recalled.
“He took me to Annapolis, got me out of the car and registered me to run for the House of Delegates,” and handed her $50 to pay the fee, she said. “On the way back, I wasn’t a Christian.” (That is, she lobbed a few curse words in his direction.)
Despite having no money or organization, Benson won her election and went on to serve there for two decades. In 2010, she was elected to the Maryland Senate.
Deloise Jones, who worked for Curry’s administration and helped with his campaign, said what she most admired most about her former boss was the faith he showed while facing death.
“He saved faith and he was not afraid to die,” Jones said. “He knows he will receive his reward for all he did for this county.”