Former Prince George’s county executive Wayne K. Curry, 63, has been diagnosed with lung cancer according to two people who heard a recorded announcement that Curry sent friends and business associates this week.
In the audio message, Curry — who did not return phone and e-mail messages from The Washington Post on Wednesday — said he has a hard fight ahead of him.
As county executive from 1994 to 2002, Curry (D) led Prince George’s through a demographic shift that included the departure of many white families and a transformation into one of the most affluent majority African American jurisdictions in the country. As the first African American elected to lead a county in the Washington region, he helped fashion the deal that brought FedEx Field to Landover, making sure no county tax money was spent and minority business owners could participate.
In February, the Southern Regional Technology and Recreation Complex in Fort Washington hosted an exhibit titled “Changing the Face of a County: The Wayne K. Curry Story,” to mark the 20th anniversary of his election as county executive.
“There is very little that has gone on in this county in the last 25 years politically and economically that Curry has not been involved in,” said Jim Estepp, president and chief executive of the Prince George’s County Business Roundtable. “He’s a true son of Prince George’s County.”
Curry continues to be influential, chairing the Prince George’s Economic Development Corp., a quasi-government entity, and serving as president of NAI Michaels Cos., one of the county’s largest commercial real estate businesses.
“He is a person of tremendous courage and I have no doubt that he, like with any obstacle in his life, will overcome,” Estepp said. “He’s a person of immense resilience.”
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III considers the elder statesman a mentor and described him as a “bigger-than-life persona.”
“We, like everyone else, are praying for him,” Baker (D) said.
Friends said Curry is in good spirits but declined to discuss his condition further, citing Curry’s well-known preference for privacy. He and his wife have a son and a daughter, both young adults. The family lives in Upper Marlboro.
Baker said he was “young and radical” when he met Curry in 1994. Newly elected to the Maryland House of Delegates, Baker had turned down an offer to join then-Speaker Casper Taylor’s leadership team. Then he got a stern call from Curry, who had set up the opportunity. Baker promptly withdrew his rejection.
“I learned that you can’t make a difference without being in a position of authority,” said Baker. “He taught me to stop yelling and address the serious issues.”
John Wagner and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.