The hundreds of people inside St. John Neumann Church on Tuesday knew Michael E. Busch the political giant, the onetime professional football prospect who was sidelined because of a knee injury and went on to become a teacher and coach at his high school alma mater before running for elective office and becoming, as Gov. Larry Hogan described, a “fearless advocate and a true champion for the people” of Maryland.
But his longtime friends and family wanted the people who gathered for Busch’s final farewell to also know the gregarious man who would repeat a funny story as if he’d never told it before; the boss whose staffers never wanted to leave for another job because “they loved the guy, and he loved them”; and the dad who pushed his daughters, Erin and Megan, to excel on and off the athletic field.
They recalled his love of sports; his love for his family, especially his daughters; and his love for his home state of Maryland.
“He was a genuinely good guy,” said Judge Richard H. Duden III, who met Busch nearly 40 years ago when both worked in the Anne Arundel Parks and Recreation Department. “He seemed to know everybody. And everybody seemed to like him.”
Busch was the longest-serving House speaker in Maryland history. He helped shepherd laws that improved access to health care, expanded school funding and legalized same-sex marriage.
He died April 7 at the age of 72 while being treated for pneumonia.
On Tuesday, blue and white “Mike Busch” campaign yard signs were posted along the median on part of the stretch of roadway that leads from the State House to St. John Neumann.
More than 200 current and former state and Anne Arundel County public officials were part of the crowd of nearly 1,000 people inside the church, along with legislative staffers, former high school classmates and lobbyists.
In addition to Hogan (R), the politicians included former governor Martin O’Malley (D), former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) and state Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D).
D. Bruce Poole, a former state delegate and former chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, called Busch’s ascension to one of the most powerful positions in Maryland politics almost “preordained.”
Poole said he and Busch were a part of a very large freshman class elected in 1986. He remembered meeting Busch while the two were waiting to get their state-
issued delegate license plates from the Motor Vehicle Administration. The booth was almost closing. Poole said he was getting antsy because he still needed to get a hotel room in Annapolis for the General Assembly session and make arrangements at the U.S. Naval Academy to use the gym.
Busch told him: “Don’t worry about it; you’re going to be fine,” Poole recalled.
He gave Poole the name of someone he knew at the Ramada Inn and a person to check with at the Naval Academy and told him he had a connection with “the lady all the way up front” at the MVA. It was Busch’s mom, Poole said.
The church erupted in laughter.
Busch did the same for each of the other new lawmakers in the class, Poole said, cementing their loyalty. Years later, when longtime Speaker Casper Taylor lost his seat and the Democrats needed to elect his successor, Busch, who had commanded the powerful Economic Matters Committee with skill and integrity, was the natural choice.
Poole said there were naysayers who didn’t think a football player “had the stuff to be speaker. . . . Boy, did he prove them wrong.”
As a Democrat who modeled himself after John F. Kennedy, Poole said, Busch built a reputation for “making sure that ordinary citizens have a shot.”
“For years to come, children in the state of Maryland will be educated in schools, and patients will be healed in hospitals, citizens will be made wiser in our libraries . . . all because of Mike Busch and the Republicans and the Democrats that he worked with,” Poole said. “He wasn’t just the speaker of the House; he was the speaker for us all.”
In her own eulogy, Erin Busch recalled how her father never missed a game and never missed a play.
“No matter what, he made time for us,” she said, adding that as teenagers they had “daddy-daughter” bonding time, which often consisted of playing catch or going out to the movies.
“He was my coach and my best buddy,” she said, pausing as her voice cracked with emotion. “Love you, Dad; thank you for everything.”
At the end of the service, Hogan placed the Maryland flag that had flown over the State House on April 7, the day of Busch’s death, into Cynthia Abbott “Cindy” Busch’s hands. She held it tightly as she and her daughters stood behind the casket and watched the pallbearers place it inside the hearse.
The final tributes to Busch began Monday, when he lay in state beneath the State House dome, steps away from the House chamber where he had presided since 2003.
A Maryland State Police honor guard stood watch for 22 hours as hundreds filed past to say their goodbyes.
Barbara Hopkins, an Annapolis resident who went to high school with Busch, decided to pay her respects by attending Tuesday’s service.
“It’s hard to imagine someone you knew so long ago doing that,” Hopkins said of Busch’s stature in Maryland history. “He was just always Mike to me.”