Liz Bobo

Liz Bobo talks about her retirement from the House of Delegates and reflects on a long career in politics in Howard County. (Doug Kapustin, Patuxent Homestead / March 5, 2014)

When the crowd of about 125 people gathered in Columbia's Kahler Hall for Liz Bobo's final town hall meeting last week, they probably expected to hear the delegate talk (as she has for the past 19 years) about hot-button issues before the General Assembly, about her own legislative priorities — maybe, too, about the issues back home that concern her.

But the evening closed on an unexpectedly emotional note as Bobo, a Columbia Democrat, bid farewell to her audience of friends and constituents Feb. 27.

As music by folk singer Pete Seeger played in the background, Bobo, 70, projected a video with images of grandson Zach Lederer, who entered hospice care last month after a two-year battle with brain cancer, bringing some in the crowd to tears.

And then — beckoning her musician friends to the front of the room to accompany her on harmonica and guitar — she led the crowd in a singalong to Seeger's classic, "If I Had a Hammer."

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Well, I got a hammer, and I got a bell, and I got a song to sing all over this land. It's the hammer of justice, it's the bell of freedom, it's the song about love, between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land.

The audience, many of whom had moved to Columbia in its heady early years, knew all the words.

Bobo's retirement after 20 sessions in Annapolis — and a career that before her State House days included one term as Howard County executive and two on the County Council — represents, in many ways, the end of an era.

She's the last of Howard County's current elected officials to have served during the 1970s, as word spread of Columbia founder Jim Rouse's vision and the planned community found itself on a national stage.

She was the first female county executive in the state of Maryland and the last remaining politician, by her own estimation, to have been able to call up Rouse on the phone when she needed advice.

Bobo's final town hall was marked by the frankness that has come to define her approach to governing.

"I wouldn't trade these 30-some years for anything," she told the crowd. "I've had some significant accomplishments, in my opinion, I've had some disappointments and I've had no regrets."

Final session

With nearly nine weeks down and four to go, Bobo is speeding toward the end of her final session in Annapolis.

But while she's been down at the State House tying up loose ends, she's often found her mind wandering back home to Howard County and her grandson, Zach.

"I've been looking forward to this eagerly, but also with curiosity — what's it going to feel like, being down here, knowing I'm going to do these things for the last time?" she said. "But then along came Zachary, and it's very different. I'm there, I'm doing my job, I know everything that's going on, but I don't think I'm experiencing everything as clearly as I would have, because that's what's in the forefront of my mind and my heart all the time."

Bobo speaks fondly of her relationship with her 20-year-old grandson, who she says she's "learned more from than anyone in all my life."

She and Lederer, whose picture of a triumphant muscle flex after waking up from brain surgery went viral and spawned the term "Zaching" in 2012, had a tradition of going out to lunch together once a week.

On one occasion, Bobo recalled, Lederer's father asked him what he and a friend were going to talk about with her while at lunch.

"And he said, 'Dad, it just so happens that Grandma is a very interesting person!' " she laughed.

In May, Lederer tweeted about these moments with Bobo: "I have the greatest conversations with Grandma. #blessed," he wrote.