Former Maryland Rep. Helen Delich Bentley has been through many receiving lines in her decades as a journalist, legislator and consultant.
There have been campaigns for office and campaigns for causes. But this round of handshaking, hugging and thanks was for the sheer joy of it.
Bentley turns 90 years old on Nov. 28, and 500 people went to the Museum of Industry Sunday to toast her and roast her, if they dared.
"This is a room full of people who both love her and fear her, and not in that order," said former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. before telling stories of her effect on his public career and private life.
The room was packed — even on a Ravens game day, noted Rep. Elijah E. Cummings — with a who's who of Maryland politics and the maritime industry, as well as dozens of people who worked with and for her during the years in Washington and locally.
Ehrlich, a Republican, and former Gov. Marvin Mandel, a Democrat, were honorary chairs of the event.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and former Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes spoke, as did Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes. The Democrats all noted how well Bentley, a Republican, was able to get others to work, vote or round up funding for a project she deemed important, no matter their political persuasion.
Mikulski, also a veteran of Capitol Hill, said even she was shown the path by Bentley once or twice. She pointed to her "intrepid nature" and her "unique voice," a raspy and forceful intonation much impersonated throughout the day.
Bentley, who served the 2nd District in Congress from 1985 to 1995, was succeeded by Ehrlich and then Ruppersberger, who defeated Bentley for the post but said they remain good friends. He also said Bentley remains an adviser — a bipartisan relationship rare in today's Washington.
The speakers lauded Bentley for dedication as well as her generosity — she put out cans Sunday for donations to groups that care for animals, veterans and maritime causes, among others.
But mostly they thanked her for her near singular focus on the port of Baltimore. The public terminals are now named for her, a permanent legacy bestowed by then-Gov. Ehrlich. Ruppersberger said Bentley told him he'd need to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the port with a special license plate. He told the audience to go look at his car and see what was affixed.
It was the 299th plate manufactured. Bentley's car sports No. 300.
As a maritime editor for The Baltimore Sun, head of the Federal Maritime Commission, congresswoman and now port consultant, Bentley supported a seaport that some speakers said hasn't always gotten enough attention from the public. They didn't understand its importance to the state's economy, but Bentley always did, they said.
Speakers said that in addition to helping lock down port business and seeing to the terminals' needs, she lobbied tirelessly to insure the channel was dredged to a depth of 50 feet so the largest ships coming through the Panama Canal could dock in Baltimore.
That would guarantee the port would be viable for years to come, said former Sen. Sarbanes. He suggested Bentley's advocacy is still needed, and said to her, "May you live to be 100."
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