While he was a serious, hands-on leader who immersed himself in policy details, Mr. Schaefer was also a master of goofy theatrics that sacrificed personal dignity for belly laughs and free publicity.
Most famously, in an act of carefully choreographed buffoonery, he donned an 1890s bathing suit and waded into the seal pool of the National Aquarium in Baltimore to atone for the city's failure to open the tourist attraction on schedule. The 1981 photo of the bathing suit-clad, straw-hatted, stern-faced mayor with rubber ducky in hand would be seen around the world — gaining the city attention money couldn't buy.
Moments later he emerged from the crate on the ship's deck clad in a naval officer's dress whites — gold epaulets and all. The crowd roared, the cannon on the nearby Constellation boomed and police boat sirens wailed.
Mr. Schaefer's antics could also take a darker turn. Behind closed doors, and sometimes in public, he could abuse aides unmercifully. His public tirades invited comparisons to a child's tantrums. At times, he embarrassed his most devoted supporters.
Cartoonists loved him. With his mottled forehead, sagging jowls and oversized ears, he was a caricature waiting to be drawn. The Sun's former editorial cartoonist Kevin "KAL" Kallaugher would portray him as the clown-suited King Don I and as the caped superhero Kaptain Keno — lampooning the gambling game he brought to Maryland. Mr. Schaefer said he was not amused.
Mr. Schaefer, who never married, had interactions with women that were contradictory and sometimes controversial. Pro-feminist in deeds, he was ahead of his time in putting strong, intelligent women in positions of great responsibility. They repaid his confidence with lifelong loyalty and protectiveness.
At the same time, Mr. Schaefer showed an old-fashioned disdain for political correctness. He routinely referred to his female employees and supporters as his "little girls." But most of the women on whom he bestowed that title — many of them committed feminists — wore it as a badge of pride.
Once Mr. Schaefer achieved high office, the only woman with whom he had a public dating relationship was Hilda Mae Snoops, a divorced mother of three. They had met in 1959.
They traveled together regularly but invariably booked separate rooms. When he was elected governor, she would become his official hostess and the dictatorial mistress of Government House. Despite her frequent clashes with his staff, he remained loyal to her until her death at 74 in 1999.
Neither he nor Mrs. Snoops explained why they never married. "I guess I've never been the marrying kind," he told an interviewer.
Friends speculated that he was simply too busy with his political career.
"He gave his whole life to public service, and the people of this state are his extended family," Judge Silver said.
Early interest in politics
William Donald Schaefer was born Nov. 2, 1921, in Baltimore, the son of William H. Schaefer, a title lawyer, and Tululu Irene Skipper Schaefer, a housewife.
Mr. Schaefer's father died in the late 1950s, but his mother lived to 89 and remained a strong influence in her son's life until her death in 1983.
Young Don Schaefer grew up in a two-story brick rowhouse at 620 Edgewood St. in a tree-lined section known as The Hill. Mr. Schaefer continued to live there for decades, but he moved to a townhouse in Anne Arundel County after his years as governor.
He was educated in city public schools, graduating from City College in 1939. Skipping undergraduate studies, Mr. Schaefer worked for the Maryland Title Guarantee Co. while attending law school at the University of Baltimore. He received a bachelor of laws degree in 1942.
With World War II at its height, he entered the Army as a private but was later promoted to officer rank. He served in a supervisory position at military hospitals in Britain and on the Continent.
Mr. Schaefer left active duty at the war's end with the rank of major, resumed the private practice of law and continued his legal studies at the University of Baltimore, which awarded him a master of laws degree in 1951.