Both inside and outside Old Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church on Wednesday, William Donald Schaefer was remembered by powerful politicians and average people alike as a leader whose passion, quirks and determination helped restore pride in his native Baltimore.
Hundreds of people crowded into the downtown church on North Charles Street to celebrate the life of a man who became the fiercely protective father of modern day Baltimore. People of all races, religions and politics gathered to honor “a giant of a man,” as his longtime aide Lainy LeBow-Sachs called him in her eulogy.
But no matter how outsized his political persona became, Schaefer’s greatest strength, according to U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, was that “he was one of us and we knew it.”
“He knew people had pride in their neighborhoods,” said Mikulski, who served on the Baltimore City Council when Schaefer was mayor. “He wanted us all to be in that big tent working side by side.”
Schaefer’s passion in life was public office, and for nearly a half century he held just about every elected position available in Maryland. And the two-hour funeral was filled with his fellow politicians: Gov. Martin O’Malley, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Councilmembers, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Congressmen Elijah Cummings and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, former governors and others.
Born in Baltimore on Nov. 2, 1921, Schaefer was the only child of Tululu Irene and William Henry Schaefer. He never had his own children to survive him, but it was clear by the three days of memorials put on by the city and state governments that all of political Maryland considered him family.
William Donald Schaefer graduated from the University of Baltimore Law School in 1942 and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was a hospital administrator in England and Europe before returning to the United States to practice real estate law. He earned a master's of law degree in 1954 from UB Law School and remained in the U.S. Army Reserves until 1979, when he retired as a colonel.
Schaefer served on the Baltimore City Council from 1955 to 1971, spending the last four years as council president. He then beat George Russell to become mayor in 1971. He served until 1986, a period that saw the city transform under his flamboyant leadership and unbridled pride in all things Baltimore.
After Schaefer's 15 years as mayor, he served as governor from 1987 to 1995. He served as state comptroller from 1999 to 2007.
"He did know Baltimore," Mikulski said. "He did know his people. He did know his neighborhoods and he came to know Maryland the same way."
Mourners not only packed the church, they lined the streets outside of it to witness the American flag-draped casket carrying the body of the former councilman, mayor, governor, comptroller who died last week at age 89.
Thomas Forsythe Sr., 54, waited at the Superfresh directly across the street from the church, which counted Schaefer as a member.
Forsythe, now 18 months sober, wanted to say goodbye to the man he occasionally met when he worked in the Baltimore City Comptroller’s office—before heroin cost him his job.
“He was the best [mayor] we ever had. Everybody says that,” Forsythe said.
At a table in front of Superfresh, William Smith, 54, sat ready with his iPhone to get pictures of the funeral procession. Smith wanted a photograph to remember Schaefer’s last ride.
Smith grew up in Edmondson Village — Schaefer's neighborhood.
For Smith, the most enduring memory of Schaefer was of the car picking up the mayor each morning as Smith walked to school.
“I was sorry to hear he passed. We know we don’t have forever. And he’s in a better place,” Smith said.
Michael Jordan Sr., 53, did a lot of work in downtown Baltimore as a member of Local No. 37 Operating Engineers, and recalled all the energy Schaefer invested in reclaiming a city many described as dying.
“We need more people like him around here. It would be a better world,” Jordan said.
Lauraville resident Frank Hogarth, 48, recalled in the 1970s when Schaefer came to the dedication of a new traffic light at the corner Anthony and Frankford Avenues. He said the community wanted the light to keep kids safe as they crossed the street to attend St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School.
“He brought a lot of ‘oomph’ to failing communities and made it so people could say, ‘Wow, this is nice, I think I’ll come down,’” Hogarth said.
Inside the church, Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and City Councilman, said Schaefer saw a hidden gem in Baltimore.
"He lifted us up and dusted us off," Mfume said.
Mfume said he initially had a rocky relationship with the man who called him "Councilman Muffin" and whom he called "Mayor So What."
"No one irritated me more then (Schaefer) and no one irritated him more than me," Mfume said, before adding, to big laughs, "Well, maybe Parris Glendening."
Schaefer often had a testy relationship with Glendening, his gubernatorial successor. When Schaefer served as comptroller, the two sat at the same table during meetings of the Board of Public Works. Schaefer often taunted Glendening, who took the gibes impassively. Schaefer also revealed Glendening's affair with a staff member.
In addition to O’Malley, former governors Marvin Mandel and Robert Ehrlich attended Schaefer's funeral. Only Glendening was absent.
Mfume said he and Schaefer "slowly, over time, developed mutual admiration and respect."
The relationship between Mfume and Schaefer was typical.
Long-time aide and friend Lainy Lebow-Sachs—whom Mfume called “the daughter Schaefer never had"— described Schaefer as a "giant of a man" and someone who was a visionary, tough, "and, let's face it, really complicated."
But Lebow-Sachs said Schaefer also had a way of getting the best out of those around him.
"One thing we all knew for sure was that if you had a shred of potential, (Schaefer) would find a way to pull it out of you," she said. “Keeping Baltimore safe and clean was an obsession for the mayor. … Can you imagine if he had a Blackberry?”
She listed several managerial lessons that Schaefer has left for public officials: Do it now, never be afraid to fail, pay attention to every detail, give something back by volunteering.
Lebow-Sachs said she believed Schaefer would be in the back of the church in spirit, pointing his finger and reminding friends and citizens alike to "remember what mattered most: he cared."
"Governor, we sure do, and I love you very, very much," she said.