William Donald Schaefer, His Final Farewell:
A Look Back at his Funeral Services
By Jari Villanueva
© 2016 Jari Villanueva, Taps Bugler
Originally published April 2016
It has been five years since the passing of Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer. This is the story of my involvement with his funeral services during the week following Easter in 2011. The elaborate three-day services culminated weeks of planning that put me in charge of overseeing the state’s farewell to a Maryland icon. I have included as many of the other people and organizations involved in those events as possible in my account of those busy days, but the story is told from my personal perspective.
William Donald Schaefer (November 2, 1921 – April 18, 2011) was a Baltimore Councilman, President of the City Council, Mayor, Maryland Governor and Comptroller during his long political career. Many will remember him for his leadership in the revitalization of the downtown Baltimore area, the building of Baltimore Harborplace, and his work to build Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
My relationship with William Donald Schaefer reached back to my high school days when I played in the All-Baltimore City High School Band for his inauguration as Baltimore’s 44th Mayor, where he went on to serve four terms, from 1971 to 1987. Schaefer had already made his mark in Baltimore politics starting in 1955, rising through the City Council and making the right connections to become the City Council President. He came into power with his election as Mayor of Baltimore after a turbulent time in our nation’s history following the riots of the late 1960s and the economic and domestic troubles of many major cities. His goal was to make Baltimore a city that would attract tourism and businesses at a time when cities were losing populations to suburban areas. I was caught up in the excitement of Baltimore’s renaissance as a high school student and then as an undergraduate at the Peabody Conservatory. I found myself playing in concerts at the Baltimore City Fair, Sunday afternoon performances at the Inner Harbor (before Harborplace), the Howard Street shopping district, Hopkins Plaza, and the War Memorial Plaza. I worked for Sandy Hillman, a close advisor to Schaefer and director of Baltimore’s Promotion and Tourism, planning and playing concerts during the mid-1970s, including organizing a concert series called Mid-Town Music that brought concerts featuring Peabody students and other performers to downtown venues such as Hopkins Plaza.
These city-sponsored performances were a way of promoting the downtown area to help revitalize the area and bring people downtown and under Schaefer’s leadership the 1970s saw great things in the arts in Baltimore. On Stage Downtown, the Baltimore Arts Festival, and the Mid-Town Music Series, along with concerts at Pier 6 pavilion, were great venues for artists and musicians. All of this was sponsored by the city under Schaefer, who wanted to showcase the talents of Baltimoreans.
I received several letters from Mayor Schaefer thanking me for my participation and work on the projects with the city. I even wrote and invited him to my senior recital at Peabody. I received a nice note from him saying he was unable to attend but wished me well. That he took time to write me was quite impressive to a 22-year-old student trying to make his mark in the world.
After graduation I still played in the city for many events before landing a position as a band director in the Baltimore City School System winding up teaching at Baltimore City College High School where Schaefer had graduated some 40 years earlier. During my tenure there the City College band played at several events for the city and our paths crossed again.
In 1983 I left for graduate school in Ohio and when I returned I taught briefly in Baltimore County before joining The United States Air Force Band in Washington DC.
Throughout the next 25 years I watched as Schaefer served two terms as Maryland’s 58th Governor beginning in 1987 and then as the 32nd Comptroller of Maryland beginning in 1999. As he had been in Baltimore, Schaefer was a great cheerleader extolling his signature “Do It Now” philosophy. Whether you liked him or not, he was William Donald Schaefer.
Schaefer retired from public life in 2007 following a defeat from Peter Franchot and moved into Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville, Maryland to spend his last years. As he left public office he was asked how he’d like to be remembered. He summed up his 50 years of public service with two words: “He Cared.” William Donald Schaefer cared about helping people.
In 2009, Schaefer was honored with a life-sized bronze statue at Harborplace that features him holding one of those “Do It Now” memos for which he was famous. It was an honor for me to be invited to the ceremony dedicating that statue that faces the harbor and to have a chance to shake his hand and pose for a few photos with him. I mentioned to him how I had met him as a young man playing at the City Fair and Hopkins Plaza and he seemed rather pleased by the memories.
After I retired from active duty with the Air Force in 2008, I went to work for the state of Maryland as Director of the Maryland National Guard Honor Guard. The MDNGHG supports 300 military funerals a month in Maryland and overseeing this vital program is a huge responsibility. However, my time in The USAF Band and working with the USAF Honor Guard and the chaplains at Arlington National Cemetery had prepared me well for my new position. In addition, while on active duty I had been heavily involved in the preparations of state funeral plans for former presidents. When Major General James A. Adkins became the 28th Adjutant General for Maryland in 2009, one of the projects he had me work on was preparing a funeral procedure for former governors and high ranking state officials in Maryland.
This outline, based on the funeral procedures for presidents, would be a framework for honoring former governors at the time of their passing, as well as any other person designated for such honors by the sitting governor. It covers arrival ceremonies, lying in state in the Maryland State House, any procession that might be desired, religious service and interment. As with all plans of this type, it is designed to mix the military pomp and ceremony with the specific wishes and desires of the family.
In the outline I created, the honors are based on the Department of Defense protocol order of precedence. For a governor of a state those honors include a musical honor of four ruffles and flourishes, 32 bars of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and a military 19-gun (cannon) salute fired by an artillery battery. These honors would be performed along with the traditional honors rendered to all retired military members: three rifle volleys, Taps, and the folding and presentation of the flag to the next of kin.
In late March, 2011, a call came from General Adkins asking me to be involved with the planning of a large-scale funeral. Schaefer’s health was failing and the time was now to prepare, using the outline I had developed for funeral procedures for Maryland state officials.
Over the course of Schaefer’s career he had surrounded himself with a small group of friends and close colleagues. A lifelong bachelor, Schaefer had no immediate family except for this close-knit group of friends. Among them were former aide Lainy Lebow-Sachs who helped him make the transition into the retirement community and watched over him during his last days, Mark Wasserman who was Schaefer’s Chief of Staff, Michael Golden, press secretary, Dean Kenderdine, executive director of the state retirement agency, Reverend Luther Starns, his minister, Bob Douglas, press secretary, Ron Kreitner from the Department of Planning, and Nancy Gordon, his executive assistant. These friends and close colleagues were brought together to plan a farewell ceremony for their former boss several weeks before his passing when it was evident that he was nearing the end and it was this group that I was asked to meet with to begin planning Schaefer’s funeral. It was quite evident from the start that Lainy (as she wanted to be known as in this article) would be the driving force behind this group. She was not only a long-time aide but also a close friend and she would direct much of how the ceremonies would happen.
At the first meeting I sat and listened intently as the group put out many ideas for the ceremonies that would be held to honor their former boss. While the intent was good, few had any experience with planning large ceremonies that would mix military, police, fire and civic elements. I quickly put together a plan that would include the protocol for honoring a chief magistrate of a state and would be flexible enough to include the special touches for this man. I also began to reach out to organizations that would be in support.
Planning went on through the first two weeks of April. Meetings were held in several locations and the organizations that needed to be involved with the logistical requirements for a large-scale ceremony were contacted. Those organizations included the Maryland National Guard, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, the Maryland Defense Force, the Baltimore Emergency Management Agency, the Maryland State Police, and the Baltimore City Police.
The initial plan I came up with was to have the services held over three days:
D-Day: Death of the governor and transport to the funeral home.
D+1: Lying in repose at the funeral home with visitation.
D+2: Arrival and lying in state at the Maryland State House.
D+3: Transport to Baltimore for funeral service and interment.
However, that original basic plan was to change several times as the group made suggestions and more details were added.
For funeral honors to be scheduled with the military, proof of service normally needs to be provided. William Donald Schaefer was a World War II veteran, having served as a hospital administrator in the European Theater of Operations. He continued his military service after the war and retired as a Colonel in the Army Reserves in 1979. The VFW offices at the War Memorial Building in Baltimore were helpful in getting his discharge paperwork, although as governor, he actually didn’t really need to have his service record confirmed. Funeral honors for the governor are those accorded to all who have served in the highest position in the state.
The governor had been the Commander-in-Chief to all Maryland National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, therefore the National Guard would take the lead in providing honors with the Maryland State Police, Baltimore City Police, other police jurisdictions and firefighters taking supporting roles. The Maryland National Guard Honor Guard would supply the military elements for the funeral and the National Guard would also furnish a band and an artillery salute battery from the 58th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. Other organizations would provide colors teams and casket watch at the Maryland State House and Baltimore City Hall.
This was a difficult time for all those involved as they were making the plans for a final salute to a man they had known and worked with for decades. I could see how this was going to take on a life of its own and was doing my best to make sure that the wishes of the close friends and aides complimented the military honors that would be accorded the governor.
Lainy visited Schaefer almost every day in early April to attend to his needs as he became more frail. During the Palm Sunday weekend 2011, information came that the governor was in very bad condition and that he probably would not last a week.
On April 17, a meeting was held to let everyone know that the time would be soon and that we should prepare for the funeral. Knowing that the next weekend was Easter, the question of scheduling was brought up should Schaefer pass during Holy Week.
On Monday, April 18, Lainy set up a telephone conference call for everyone. She was with Schaefer and wanted to review some plans. She told everyone that she was sitting with the governor and everyone spoke to him one last time. One by one they said how much they loved him and thanked him for his years of service. I heard expressions of gratitude for the mentoring he had done. Schaefer did not reply vocally but everyone could hear his labored breathing. Many were on the verge of breaking down as everyone on the conference call could sense these were to be the final words they would say to their boss. For me, as a person brought in to coordinate the ceremonies that would honor him, I felt a bit like an interloper. Although I knew Schaefer from my high school days, my relationship with him was not as personal as those on the phone. One by one they said goodbye. Then I was introduced. Sitting in my office at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore I could not say much except that I appreciated his service. I then quickly picked up my trumpet and said, “Mr. Governor, this is for you,” and played “Maryland, My Maryland,” the state song. It was a spontaneous gesture and when I finished I could hear sobbing on the phone. Lainy came on to say nothing more could be offered and everyone hung up. It was eerily quiet and I felt perhaps I had gone over the line by playing my trumpet. I was to find out later that the gesture had been very much appreciated.
It’s unclear whether Schaefer fully comprehended the tune or the farewells expressed by his friends and colleagues during the conference call. “I am always going to believe he heard it”, said Lainy. I was lucky enough to be there, to say, “I love you” at his end.
I left my office and went home. At around 6 pm I received a call from Lainy saying Schaefer had just passed and that the funeral home was on the way to take his remains to Ruck Funeral Home in Towson for preparation. I called Captain Ron Lewis, Director of Special Operations, my contact at the Maryland State Police to let them know of his passing and immediately a State Trooper was dispatched to the Charlestown Retirement Community to escort the hearse. I drove over to Charlestown to assist Lainy, but was stopped at the gate. The news of Schaefer’s death had quickly spread and security was locking down Charlestown to prevent media from entering. Once the State Police arrived I was let in with them and we waited for the hearse to arrive. We formed a convoy of five vehicles. Before we left I asked if the governor was covered with a flag. The funeral home had not brought one so I gave them the spare I always carry in my vehicle. This flag was to cover him from this point on till it was presented on behalf of a grateful nation and state. To this day I am honored that the flag that covered the governor came from the Maryland National Guard Honor Guard. The convoy left Charlestown for the trip to Ruck Funeral Home escorted by the State Police with their flashing lights.
The next day a meeting was called to discuss the funeral plans. Because of Holy Week and the additional services churches would be holding, it was decided to wait until the next week, April 25 to 27, to hold the funeral ceremonies honoring the governor. Because of the date being pushed back, there was more time for planning the ceremonies and more time to coordinate military, police, fire and the various veteran service organizations that wanted to participate in the farewell.
During that week the final plans fell into place, which now looked like this:
Monday April 25. The casket would be taken from Ruck Funeral Home in Towson, Maryland to the State House in Annapolis where the governor would lie in state in the Rotunda from 10 am to 2 pm. Then the casket would be taken to City Hall in Baltimore. During the trip to Baltimore, the hearse would travel to various locations like Harbor Place, The National Aquarium, and his home on Edgewood Street in West Baltimore. The casket would arrive at City Hall around 5 pm where it would be placed in the Rotunda for a day.
Tuesday April 26. The casket would lie in state in the Rotunda of Baltimore City Hall. Baltimore City Police would provide casket watch during the day and night and the public would be able to pay their respects.
Wednesday April 27. The casket would leave City Hall in slow procession to Old Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church for the funeral service. Following the service, the procession would proceed to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium, Maryland where the casket would be placed in a vault with full military honors which would include a cannon salute by an artillery battery, National Guard band, firing party, Taps and a flyover by a Maryland State Police helicopter.
As plans were developing it became clear that the scope of military honors would go far beyond the simple folding and presentation of the flag, and the Maryland National Guard Honor Guard had already been training for such an occasion. We had a six-person casket team with Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge, firing party, colors and bugler all set to go. The team would be required to carry the casket in and out of the State House, City Hall, and Old Saint Paul’s Church, and at the interment at Dulaney Valley. All this would be performed in the public view with intense media coverage, so extra practice was required. The Deputy Director of the Honor Guard, Dominic Boyd, took care of overseeing the casket team while I was working other details of the funeral. They practiced at the State House to insure that the steps leading into the building would be negotiated without issue. City Hall presented several challenges including a narrow doorway and steps inside the lobby. Because of the scheduling for the week, the only time the casket team could practice at City Hall was at 10 pm on Saturday, April 23 (Easter eve).
Meanwhile, plans were made for the ceremonies at the State House on April 25 with a wreath-laying by the current governor, Martin O’Malley, and a ceremony with cabinet members and legislators. Since Schaefer would lie in the State House only four hours, not much was in the plans for that morning except for viewing by the general public after the arrival ceremony. However, a very elaborate plan was being developed for the trip from the State House to City Hall that would take place in the afternoon. The procession would travel through Baltimore making up to 14 stops before arriving at City Hall. This plan, worked out by the Schaefer aides, was ambitious and had many moving parts.
My attention was spent in coordination with state officials, aides to the Mayor, the National Guard, and many groups that wanted to be part of the final salute. Traveling between Baltimore and Annapolis became my new daily routine. I also drove to the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) for briefings with the major players for the ceremonies. Mike Fischer, who headed up operations for MEMA, had done great work in getting all the agencies together. I was impressed by the knowledge they had in handling large-scale events and pleased with how everyone was working together to make things happen. Working the city end of the events was Robert Maloney of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management. Both Mike and Robert were great help during the week.
I also sat in on a brief with the Baltimore City Police Department who would have a big share of the responsibilities. Many questions about the funeral service and the seating list for dignitaries and special guests came up and fortunately we had the assistance of the Maryland Military Department Legislative Liaison, Catherine Kelly, who worked that issue. Her help was immeasurable.
As more plans started to fall into place, new questions about Old Saint Paul’s Church came up. These were brought forward by Lainy, who was concerned that the church could not hold all the people who wanted to attend and that parking and lining up for the procession to Dulaney Valley could be difficult. Another meeting helped to alleviate her concerns but I found myself running almost an hour late for a meeting at the State House. When I finally arrived, an aide to Governor O‘Malley saw me from the 2nd floor and called for me to meet in the cabinet room. When I walked into the room filled with aides, someone said, “Oh good, he’s here, we can start.” Up to that point I didn’t realize how much was riding on my expertise.
By Thursday afternoon my smart phone was going haywire. My voice message box was filled and the emails were overflowing. The Adjutant General and Governor’s offices were concerned over my driving myself around while needing to respond to urgent incoming messages and tend to last minute details, and on Good Friday following a final meeting I was told that a Maryland Transportation Officer would be assigned to drive me for the three days of the funeral ceremonies.
As the week closed and the Easter weekend began, it was time to take a short breather before the ceremonies would begin.