By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun
July 29, 2013
Michael I. Volk, former division chief for what is now the Department of Legislative Services in Annapolis, died Wednesday of pancreatic cancer at his Pikesville home. He was 68.
"Mike was a really great guy and one of the most important behind-the-scenes players in the work of our state legislature," said F. Carvel Payne, former director of the Department of Legislative Services. "And he was my friend."
The son of a shoe salesman and a homemaker, Michael Irving Volk was born and raised in Northwest Baltimore.
After graduating from City College in 1961, he earned a bachelor's degree in 1965 from the University of Maryland, College Park and his law degree in 1969 from the University of Maryland School of Law.
"We were lawyers by education but not profession. We were not members of the Maryland bar," said Mr. Payne, who lives in Severna Park. "I started in November 1970, and Mike started in January 1971 in what was then called the Department of Legislative Reference."
Mr. Volk began his career as a legislative analyst for that department, a nonpartisan arm of the General Assembly. Mr. Payne said the two worked together drafting legislation.
"The department switched to computerized legislative bill drafting during the 1973 session, which did not go smoothly, so following the end of the session, Mike and I went to our boss with some suggestions," Mr. Payne said.
"We organized the legislative drafting and amendment work ... such that Mike supervised the drafting of amendments to legislative bills, a function that he performed with calm, fairness and precision," he said.
"Every piece of legislation — from the mundane and simple to the complex and controversial, from 100-page budget bills to the one-pager that wants to make children wear helmets when rollerblading — comes through the bill drafters," noted The Baltimore Sun in a 2000 article.
"They come in all shapes and sizes, from the proverbial request on the back of a cocktail napkin to the well-thought-out proposal," Mr. Volk told the newspaper at the time. "You may be able to do it quickly, fairly quickly, but not to the point where it is by rote. Even the most experienced people, myself included, make mistakes."
In 1978, Mr. Volk was promoted to division chief of the legislative division of the Department of Legislative Reference, and in that position supervised the drafting and amending of all bills and the nonpartisan staffing of committees.
"In addition, he staffed the General Assembly's critical Policy Committee, which oversaw the work of the General Assembly during nonsession time," said Mr. Payne. In recent years, Mr. Volk oversaw the work of nonpartisan committee staff for both chambers of the legislature.
Mr. Payne described Mr. Volk as "quiet-spoken, kind and thoughtful. He was a very good person."
"Mike always paid great attention to detail and was diligent in his work. And as a nonpartisan staff person, people of all political backgrounds knew they could trust him," said Mr. Payne.
"He had knowledge, discretion and was nonideological and knew how to sublimate his own political feelings as any nonpartisan staff member should," he said. "He was well respected across the political spectrum."
Because he was "careful in his choice of words and strictly nonpartisan, both liberal and conservative members of the General Assembly sought his advice," said Mr. Payne. "His was the unseen hand behind many a successful legislative bill."
Mr. Volk retired last year because of failing health.
His death, said Mr. Payne, "is a loss of significant memory of the work of the General Assembly during the 1971-2012 period."
Mr. Volk was an avid reader and enjoyed playing cards. A Democrat, he was also a student of politics.
Services were held Sunday at Sol Levinson & Bros.
Mr. Volk is survived by his wife of 45 years, the former Dine R. Herman; two daughters, Allyson Greene of Falls Church, Va., and Kelly Russo of Fort Belvoir, Va.; a sister, Carol Volk of Pikesville; and two grandsons.
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