Maryland’s “Indomitable Statesman” Dies

Tuesday, Apr 19, 2011  |  Updated 8:27 PM EDT
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Reaction from Maryland leaders on the death of William Donald Schaefer.

Chris Gordon

Reaction from Maryland leaders on the death of William Donald Schaefer.

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William Donald Schaefer, the colorfully outspoken and combative Maryland governor and four-term Baltimore mayor who left a legacy of impressive public works projects, has died.

Former aide Lainy LeBow-Sachs said Schaefer died at 6:30 p.m. Monday at his home at the Charlestown retirement community outside Baltimore.

He was 89.

As mayor from 1971 to 1986, Schaefer earned a national reputation for overseeing the transformation of downtown Baltimore from a gritty center of urban decay into a tourist attraction.

The Democrat, a Maryland political icon who held statewide office into his 80s as state comptroller, battled to fill potholes as mayor and never missed an opportunity to tout his hometown, even jumping in a seal pool while wearing a turn-of-the century bathing costume and holding a rubber ducky to promote a new aquarium.

“William Donald Schaefer loved his city and his state with great exuberance because there was nothing more important to him than the people that he served with such loyalty,” Gov. Martin O'Malley said. "From his famous ‘no excuses’ leadership style, to his celebrated public persona, William Donald Schaefer demonstrated an unrelenting drive to make Maryland a better place.  His legacy lives not merely in the buildings that bear his name, nor the statue that bears his likeness, but in the lives and hearts of all those fortunate enough to have known him and lucky enough to have been served by him.”

Sometimes he got in over his head, like when he used the phrase "little girl," called his opponent for comptroller "Old Mother Hubbard" and asked a young woman at a public works meeting to return and leave the room a second time so he could admire her. Schaefer apologized to her but lost the 2006 primary for reelection as comptroller.

In retirement, he revealed his political secret.

"I thought I would lose every election, and the key to my winning was the fact that I thought I was going to lose,” he once said. “I ran on the premise that we were losing until the night the last vote was counted. I presumed we were not going to win and that worked out. And people worked hard for me.”

O’Malley, who called Schaefer Maryland's "indomitable statesman," ordered state flags to be lowered immediately Monday evening to half-staff to mark Schaefer's death.

Schaefer will lie in state in the State House in Annapolis and the rotunda of Baltimore City Hall.

"Whether as mayor, governor or comptroller, William Donald Schaefer was never satisfied with the status quo and always believed government was there to create a climate of opportunity for all citizens," said state Comptroller Peter Franchot in a statement. "No detail was too small to escape his notice and nothing was beneath him when it came to fulfilling his lifelong goal of ‘Helping People.’ His legacy of a thriving Inner Harbor and downtown Baltimore, of a progressive and more compassionate and efficient state government will live on for generations."

“I want on my tombstone the words ‘He cared,’" Schaefer said. “That's all. Just the tombstone with the words ‘He cared.’ Nothing more than that."


Schedule of ceremonies for former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Monday, April 25:

  • Schaefer to lie in repose at the State House in Annapolis for public viewing, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Schaefer to be taken on “tour” of Baltimore, through the neighborhoods and landmarks that were significant to his career, with motorcade leaving Annapolis for Baltimore at 2 p.m.
  • Schaefer to lie in repose in the rotunda of City Hall in Baltimore for public viewing, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Tuesday, April 26:

  • Schaefer to lie in repose in the rotunda of City Hall in Baltimore for public viewing, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Wednesday, April 27:

  • Funeral at Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Baltimore, 11 a.m.
  • Interment in the chapel mausoleum at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.

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