The roar of motorcycles replaced the solemn sounds of a lone bagpiper as a hearse carrying the casket of the Michael E. Busch stopped on State Circle in Annapolis, just yards from the longtime Maryland House speaker’s reserved parking spot.
Current and former members of the Maryland General Assembly and their legislative staffers lined the brick walkway as the casket, draped in the Maryland flag, was carried by a half-dozen state police honor guardsmen into the State House and placed on a bier beneath the historic dome. In front of the casket was the glass-enclosed House of Delegates mace, a centuries-old staff that symbolizes that the House of Delegates is in session.
“While this marks the end of a significant chapter for Maryland, Speaker Busch now takes his rightful place in the rich legacy and proud history of this great state,” said Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who opened the brief ceremony. “Few have served Maryland with as much passion and dedication as Mike Busch did. And few will leave this earth as well-loved and esteemed as he was.”
Busch, 72, the longest-serving House speaker in Maryland’s history, died April 7, a day before the close of the General Assembly’s annual legislative session. He had been hospitalized for treatment of pneumonia after a follow-up procedure for a 2017 liver transplant.
“He was a champion for the people,” said former U.S. senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, the same year that Busch was elected to the House of Delegates.
Mikulski was joined at the microphone by U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and three of Busch’s top lieutenants in the House chamber, all of whom are potential successors: Democratic Dels. Dereck E. Davis (Prince George’s), Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne A. Jones (Baltimore County) and Maggie McIntosh (Baltimore City).
Busch’s daughters, Megan and Erin, sat on each side of their mother, Cynthia Abbott “Cindy” Busch, as the elected officials recounted the longtime speaker’s efforts to improve the Chesapeake Bay, increase funding for education and provide greater access to health care.
They lauded Michael Busch’s personal leadership style, calling him a “coach” who pushed the members of his “team,” the delegates, to work with integrity and respect. Many lawmakers, such as state Sen. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s) and Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), said after the ceremony that they wouldn’t be in their positions if Busch had not “seen something” in them that they didn’t see at the time.
McIntosh thanked Busch’s family for sharing him with the General Assembly and the state of Maryland.
“We know the job he loved most was being a father,” she said. “We heard about almost every game. We know every score you made. . . . You kept just fighting through an injury and kept returning to the sport you loved. That’s just the way your father lived his life.”
A massive “Thank you Speaker Busch” sign hung from a county government building in Annapolis to greet motorists. Busch, a former coach and teacher, represented Anne Arundel County and worked for its Department of Recreation and Parks as a youth athletics administrator for 39 years.
In his honor, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) has waived entrance fees for county parks for one week, beginning Monday. He also gave all county employees four hours of administrative leave on either Monday or Tuesday to attend one of the public services.
“There is no way to measure how much Mike Busch did for Anne Arundel County,” Pittman said in a statement. “Sadness is the emotion that I and so many county residents are feeling at the passing of Speaker Busch, but gratitude is the message that we must convey.”
Those streaming into the State House to pay their final respects included hundreds who knew Busch for decades and others who recognized his name only from news articles or campaign literature.
Among them was Joanie Coleman-Casey, a longtime zoning enforcement manager in Anne Arundel, and Curtis Spencer, who wore a blue-and-white campaign T-shirt emblazoned with Busch’s name and his slogan: “Maryland Speaker, OUR delegate.”
Spencer, a community activist in Annapolis, said he and Busch coached basketball teams together. He volunteered for all of his campaigns.
Coleman-Casey said she never met Busch but respected his commitment to public service.
“He seemed to be someone who wanted to make things better and committed his life to trying to do that,” she said as she stood in line inside the rotunda for 40 minutes with dozens ahead of her.
Busch’s casket will lie in the State House until 10 a.m. Tuesday. Visitors can pay their respects until 7 p.m. Monday and again beginning at 8 a.m. Tuesday. His funeral will begin at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Annapolis.