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Colleagues recall Dixon, 74, as a leader who made friends and allies to benefit his community

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One day after his death, Richard Dixon, 74, was the subject of tributes and accolades sweeping across all of Carroll County — where he was born and raised, built a family and served his community as a school board member, state delegate and Maryland treasurer.

"He was an outstanding gentleman, and he did a wonderful job serving on the board of education, in the House of Delegates and as the state treasurer, and he did a wonderful job for Carroll County," said Jean Lewis, president of the Carroll County chapter of the NAACP.

"He was a wonderful individual, and he will be truly missed," she said.

Dixon died Thursday, June 7, following a stroke earlier in the week.

Born April 17, 1938, he had served as state treasurer — the first black man to hold that position — from January 1996 to February 2002, when he resigned for health reasons.

Prior to that, he served in the House of Delegates, representing Carroll County from 1983 to 1996, and before that was on the Board of Education from 1970 to 1978, serving as president from 1975 to 1977.

Those titles and positions were the means through which he served his county and his state. But reflecting on his life, many who knew him were speaking Friday more about the man — and how his legacy of service was rooted firmly in family and hometown values.

"He was always thinking about Carroll County and how he could help us," said Julia Gouge, of Hampstead, who was a member of the Board of County Commissioners for a portion of the time Dixon was in Annapolis.

"I would ... meet with him from time to time for lunch or breakfast to discuss what the state could do to help us," she said on Friday. "I never felt bashful about picking up the phone and calling him. A lot of times he'd say, 'Why don't we meet in Westminster?'

"It's little things like that that you remember," she said. "Richard was always really kind, and I think that stands out as much as anything in my mind."

Dixon was a Democrat, one of the few in recent — or even distant — memory from staunchly Republican Carroll County to be elected to a state office, but those who worked with him say party didn't matter as much as principle and purpose.

"We were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but he was a very conservative, conscientious and caring legislator," said State Sen. Joe Getty (R-Dist. 5) of Manchester.

Getty got to see Dixon in action when the Manchester Republican was elected to the House of Delegates in 1994.

"For a little bit over a year I sat beside him on the house floor," Getty said. "Dixon didn't necessarily align with either side, politically. He voted his conscience. He was a very independent, strong political leader. He was a great strategist in knowing how to move something along in the legislative process."

"I considered him my mentor," Getty said, "and I could not have had a better mentor than Richard Dixon."

Dixon was a member of the House Appropriations Committee for much of his time as a delegate, and for a period chaired its capital budget subcommittee, and served on its education and economic development subcommittee and its oversight committee on pensions.

He's credited with sponsoring many bills aiding Carroll County projects, including a emergency room and expansion at Carroll Hospital Center; a new YMCA building; and several facilities at then-Western Maryland College (now McDaniel), including Hoover Library.

"Being a Democrat was one thing, but it didn't stop him from working with whomever he needed to work with to get something accomplished," Gouge said. "I'd often ask him for ideas as to what to do and who to talk to to get certain things accomplished, because he could always work both sides of the aisle."

"According to what I have read, he brought more money back to Carroll County as a member of the House of Delegates than anyone else has ever done," said Jean Lewis.

Getty recalled that as a member of the Maryland Board of Public Works — one of the roles the state treasurer fulfills — Dixon was one equal footing with the two other members of the board, then-Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Then-Gov. Parris Glendening.

In one lively issue between the three, Getty recalled, Dixon, "really stood up for Carroll County in reinstituting a Manchester bypass."

"He and Schaefer were on our side in supporting the bypass," Getty said, "and Glendening was opposed to it. The result was some great political theater."

'Humor ... and common sense'

Dean Minnich, a former county commissioner who also worked as a newspaper reporter in Carroll, said Dixon had a strong work ethic and an easy wit that allowed him to work well with colleagues in Carroll and in Annapolis.

"I first worked with Richard when I was a reporter and he was on the county school board," said Minnich. "I always thought he had a great sense of humor and a lot of common sense.

"I think he did great work as state treasurer," Minnich said. "He just took whatever the job title was at hand and applied his common sense and sense of humor to it, and was able to be a good part of the dialogue, whatever the public issue."

Discipline and a sense of teamwork was, perhaps, a product of his military service. Dixon served in the Army from 1960 to 1968, attaining the rank of captain. He served with the 101st Airborne Division and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam.

Dixon valued education as a social duty and responsibility. He received his bachelor of science degree and a master's degree in business administration from Morgan State.

He received an Honorary Doctor of Laws in 1988 from then-Western Maryland College, and an Honorary Doctor of Public Service in 1994 from Carroll Community College.

Villa Julie College and Morgan State University also conferred honorary degrees on him in 1997.

As a child, Dixon had attended Robert Moton School in Westminster, and even after that school was closed, he retained his affinity for it.

Robert Moton School, named for the black Virginia educator who headed Tuskegee Institute from 1915 to 1935 was, for 35 years, a 12-grade school that provided the only education available to black children in Westminster. It was closed in 1965 when the county schools were integrated. Its building is part of the Carroll Community College campus.

Still, Dixon had wanted its heritage remembered. In the 1970s, he was instrumental in getting a new elementary school in Westminster named Robert Moton Elementary — and in 2004 was honored at the school with a portrait that had been painted by local artist Tom Holder.

"I am the one who insisted the new school keep the name of the old one, even though the student body would be mostly white — that is the makeup of Carroll County," Dixon told the Baltimore Sun in 2004. "I was on the school board at the time and I had the support of my colleagues in this effort, although the decision was not the popular one."

On Thursday, in announcing Dixon's passing, current state Treasurer Nancy Kopp described Dixon as a man who was, "clear and confident in his convictions, and brought great intelligence and common sense to public service.

"Treasurer Dixon was a person who succeeded as a military officer during the Vietnam War, as a businessman and stockbroker, as a state legislator and as the state treasurer," she said.

Services scheduled for June 12

Richard N. Dixon was the son of Thomas A. Dixon and Mamie Dixon; loving husband of Grayson Dixon; father of Timothy and Richard Jr. and brother of Edith Davenport, Trudy Green and Twila Mitchell.

He was also the grandfather of Marilyn, Richard III and Robert; nephew of Julia Gibson and Adina Ashburn; father-in-law of Sandra; brother-in-law of Vivian Dorsey, Mae Beard, Hazel Collins, Thelma Smith, Bernice Young, Ivory Green and Carl Dorsey.

Survivors also include a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, and aunts and uncles.

He was preceded in death by brothers Thomas Jr. and William; sister Dorothy; sisters-in-laws Rosa Lee Dixon and Sedonia Dorsey; and brothers-in-law George Collins, Calvin Dorsey, James Dorsey, Delmar Dorsey, Louis Beard, Gerald Davenport and George Young.

The family will receive friends on Tuesday, June 12, from 11 a.m. until start of services at 1 p.m. at the Gilliam Concert Hall in the Murphy Fine Arts Center at Morgan State University, 2201 Argonne Rd., Baltimore. Interment will follow in St. Luke's United Methodist Church Cemetery in Sykesville.

The family requests that contributions be made to the Mamie Dixon Scholarship at Morgan State University, 2201 Argonne Dr., Baltimore, MD 21251 or to St. Luke's United Methodist Church, 350 River Road, Sykesville, MD 21784; or to the Former Students and Friends of Robert Moton, 300 South Center St., Westminster, MD 21157.

Online condolences may be sent to http://www.prittsfuneralhome.com

Jim Joyner contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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