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Perennial candidate 'always ran to win'

Dr. Ross Z. Pierpont, a general surgeon and a perennial candidate who ran and lost 16 times for offices including Baltimore mayor and U.S. senator, died Friday at his home in Homeland. He was 88.

The cause of death was not immediately known, said his daughter, Christine Von Klencke. Her father died shortly after waking up in the morning, she said.Dr. Pierpont was former chief of surgery at Maryland General Hospital and also operated at Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace. Holding office would have cost him a fortune in lost income from his medical practice and real estate and consulting businesses, he said.

"Don't get me wrong," he told a Sun reporter in 2002. "I always ran to win. But I'm better off out than in."

Over a span of 36 years that ended with his failed bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2002, Dr. Pierpont could be counted on to run for one office or another. More than once, reporters found him at the state elections office in Annapolis hours before the filing deadline. He would declare that he was definitely going to run for something but wasn't sure what.

"Sometimes, he entered just to push other people to a state of confusion, and he did," said former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who counts herself as a friend and admirer even though the better-funded Dr. Pierpont caused her to stay out of a U.S. senatorial race in 1974.

"He kept people on their toes," she said. "He felt he could say things that other Republican candidates could not."

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, a former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor, said he admired Dr. Pierpont's tenacity and good humor.

"He always ran," said Mr. Schaefer. "He liked running against me.

"I don't think he ever expected to win, but I think he had more fun than anybody. I really liked the guy. Every now and then he'd be a pain in the neck, but we always remained friends."

Dr. Pierpont took pride in personally financing all of his campaigns.

Ross Zimmerman Pierpont was born and raised in Woodlawn and graduated from Catonsville High School. His father died when he was 3, leaving his mother, a schoolteacher, to raise her four boys.

Dr. Pierpont sold vegetables on the streets of Baltimore and worked in a pool parlor to help out, and he made money by selling a cow he had won at a raffle.

He earned degrees from the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in 1937 and the university's School of Medicine in 1940. He joined the surgical staff at Maryland General in 1945 and remained there until his retirement about 20 years ago.

In 1942, he married Grace Schmidt, who survives him. They met when she was a nurse at Maryland General.

He loved to sing and donated money to the Baltimore Opera Company and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He also played squash and was team physician for the Baltimore Clippers minor league hockey team.

But most Marylanders know him as the man who wanted to be mayor, congressman, senator or governor.

He first ran as a Democrat and lost to George P. Mahoney in the party's gubernatorial primary in 1966. He said the race-baiting of Mr. Mahoney - who opposed open-housing laws and ran on the slogan "Your Home Is Your Castle - Protected" drew him into the campaign. Mr. Mahoney won the nomination and lost to Spiro T. Agnew in the general election.

Two years later, Dr. Pierpont ran against U.S. Sen. Daniel B. Brewster because, he said, the senator drank too much. In 1970, he became a Republican and waged a failed bid for Congress.

In 1974, he ran against U.S. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias, who Dr. Pierpont said acted like a Democrat. In later years, he ran in nearly every election, including 1986 and 1988, when he tried to tie Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat, to the state's savings and loan crisis.

In 2002, while seeking his party's nomination for governor, he went after the eventual Democratic nominee, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

"We must not allow Maryland to become a playground for the gratification of insatiable Kennedy ambitions," he wrote in a campaign brochure. The brochure included references to the "election-buying" of Mrs. Townsend's grandfather, Joseph P. Kennedy, and President John F. Kennedy's Bay of Pigs fiasco.

Though an avowed conservative, he took positions that spanned the political spectrum. He favored universal health coverage and the elimination of property taxes. He believed that vocational skills should be taught to students who are not likely to attend college, and he argued that college athletes should be allowed to major in sports.

Dr. Pierpont never took his defeats personally, his daughter said.

"He was never discouraged," said Mrs. Von Klencke, who lives with her husband, a count, in a castle in northern Germany. "I'm sure on election day he'd be a little sorry. But he'd say, `Oh, well' and go on to something else."

His close friend and golfing partner Thomas M. Searles Jr. said Dr. Pierpont was frustrated with his party's failure to upset what he believed was a pattern of Democratic vote-stealing. Mr. Searles said Dr. Pierpont was a gracious man who would do anything to help a friend.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Dr. Pierpont is survived by four grandchildren.

His funeral will be at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at Grace United Methodist Church, North Charles Street and Northern Parkway. Burial will be at his son-in-law's estate in Germany.

jonathan.bor@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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