Former state Del. Michael Sprague is being remembered by friends and colleagues as a conscientious lawmaker and supreme amateur athlete.
Sprague died of lymphoma Sept. 29 at a a hospital in the District. He was 71.
The Port Tobacco resident began his political career with a successful run for Charles County commissioner in 1970, and four years later moved on to the Maryland House of Delegates, where he served until 1994.
Sprague, who was born in Indian Head, was a star athlete at Lackey High School, where he won a state championship as a senior guard on the 1958 boys basketball team.
After graduation, Sprague served in the U.S. Army from 1959 to 1961.
He attended Charles County Community College, now the College of Southern Maryland, and in 1965 received a degree from Appalachian State Teachers College, now Appalachian State University.
Sprague went to work as an insurance agent for State Farm in Bryans Road, a job he has for 40 years before his retirement in 2006.
In his spare time, Sprague enjoyed golf.
Reelected to the State House five times, he spent all but his last year in Annapolis as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. He joined the House Economic Matters Committee for one year in 1994.
Former state senator James C. Simpson, whose time in public office mirrored Sprague’s, described his former colleague as “a great legislator.”
“When he got really interested in a piece of legislation, he would do great research on it, and that was the side most people never saw of Mike,” Simpson said. “He probably represented Southern Maryland as well as anybody ever did. But he was just a fun-loving guy. You had to have fun when you were around him. We had a lot of great times, needless to say, over those years.”
Months after he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Charles Board of Commissioners, Simpson ran on the same ticket with Sprague in 1970.
Simpson insists that it was merely coincidence when, four years later, both men, frustrated over how expensive the state made it for local governments to function, decided to run for the State House — and again in 1994, when both retired from public office.
“None of it was really scripted. It just kind of happened,” Simpson said. “Needless to say, I’m certainly going to miss him. I’ve lost a very close friend that I have very fond memories of. He was just a wonderful guy.”
Former delegate J. Ernest Bell II, who represented St. Mary’s County from 1983 to 1994, said he last saw Sprague while playing in a softball game last year — a fitting encounter, given that the two met on a baseball diamond more than half a century earlier, when Bell was an outfielder for Ryken High School and Sprague a second baseman for Lackey High.
“He was a much better athlete than me,” Bell said. “We cemented our friendship in athletic endeavors, most of which, I have to admit, his teams won.”
Bell said he and Sprague shared an office at the State House and spent a lot of time together on the House floor, where Sprague’s wit served him well.
“In my years in the House of Delegates, he was unequaled in his ability to defuse a volatile situation with a sense of humor, so much so that when Mike took the floor on an issue he felt strongly about, it was not only enlightening, it was entertaining,” Bell said. “He could ease an uneasy situation with his sense of humor, and he was able to use his humor to put a person in his place.”
Former Charles County commissioner and former state delegate William Daniel Mayer said he and Sprague knew each other as teens and attended community college together.
“I think Mike’s biggest quality was he could get along with everyone in politics. He was a consensus builder, and he did a lot of good for Charles County, a whole lot more than I thought he ever got credit for,” Mayer said. “Later in life, he was just enjoying life, and it’s a shame that, at such an age, he’s gone. We’re going to miss him.”
A Republican, Mayer said Sprague was one of the first Democrats to support his first run for county commissioner in 1994.
“With Mike, it didn’t matter what label you had. He cared about who was best for the county,” Mayer said. “It’s too bad we don’t have more of that today.”
John Hanson Briscoe, who served in the House from 1962 to 1979 and led the chamber as speaker during Sprague’s first term as a delegate, remembers first meeting then-commissioner at a forum in La Plata.
He recalled fondly Sprague’s answer to one constituent who asked the commissioner why he was running for the legislature.
“He said, ‘I really don’t like this job much,’ ” Briscoe said, adding that Sprague promised to “spend their money like I spend mine” if he was elected to Annapolis.
“If you know Mike Sprague, he was very frugal,” Briscoe said. “He was a tightwad and a fiscal conservative.
“He was a good legislator, great sense of humor, great kidder. He loved to kid and joke. He was very conscientious, and he really made sure that what he did was for the betterment of Southern Maryland. He was a real Southern Maryland boy. That came first. He never looked at greater statewide ambitions.”