William L. Klender, Baltimore Sun
July 17, 2008
Tawes' tenure as the state's two-term Democratic governor coincided with the turbulent years of the 1960s, and the period of national unrest that was embodied in the anti-draft movement, Vietnam War protests and the pressing for civil rights by African-Americans.
When he became governor, African-Americans couldn't eat a meal in many Maryland restaurants. With his passing of the landmark public accommodations law, Maryland became the first state below the Mason-Dixon Line to do so.
He eliminated discrimination in state hiring and employment, which was extended to minorities seeking to do business with the state.
He put an end to Southern Maryland's slot machines and the culture of corruption that they engendered. He presided over the establishment of Baltimore's first real lower court that replaced the questionable and heavily politically influenced magistrate system.
At his death in 1979, The Sun observed that through the years of turmoil, the "Somerset countian maintained a steady hand on the reins of government, fostering an atmosphere of relative calm in the state ....And despite his conservative, go-slow instincts, he presided over the greatest economic boom and growth period in Maryland history."
In 1965, Tawes appointed a Constitutional Convention Commission, which the voters approved in 1966. Its mission was the modernization of the state's constitution that dated to 1867.
Tawes was born in 1894 in Crisfield, and graduated from public schools there. He was also a graduate of the Wilmington Conference Academy in Dover, Del., and the Sadler's, Bryant & Stratton Business College.
After leaving school, Tawes joined the family lumbering and cannery businesses, which later included shipbuilding, banking and baking.
The successful businessman launched his political career in 1930 when he was elected clerk of the Somerset County Circuit Court, to which he was elected a second time. In 1938, he won election to the office of state comptroller, where he served four terms.
When he was elected governor after the completion of his final term as comptroller, he was "elected by the largest majority Maryland voters had given a candidate for governor up to that time," reported The Sun.
After leaving the governor's office, he returned to Crisfield where he earned the name of the "Squire of Crisfield." Because of his closeness to the culture of Tidewater Maryland and its watermen, in 1970, he was appointed treasurer and secretary of natural resources by Gov. Marvin Mandel.
"Education. I'd like to be remembered for our program when we enlarged both public and private education .... By putting these colleges all through the state you made it possible to go to school in your own area," Tawes told a Sun reporter shortly before his death.
He was buried at Sunny Ridge Memorial Park in Crisfield.