On Nov. 18, Baltimore County and the people of Dundalk lost a great man when former County Councilman Donald C. Mason passed away. To know Councilman Mason was to know why his generation is called "The Greatest Generation." Like many in his day, Mr. Mason grew-up during the Great Depression. He knew intimately what it really meant when governments failed and families were left to struggle.
While he was still a teenager his country called him to serve overseas in the Navy during World War II. I can tell you Mr. Mason valued the freedom he fought for and he continued to fight for our freedoms well into his eighties.
After the war, America grew. Mr. Mason did his part making steel at Sparrows Point. How great it was to see his pride in that contribution the day he showed the County Council molten steel up-close on a tour he gave of the Bethlehem Steel plant in action. Just as impressive were all his friends still working hard there at the time to keep America as strong as the metal they crafted. During his Beth Steel years, Mr. Mason also started a family to be proud of and lived the American Dream that his generation made possible.
But Don's story does not end there. I met Don several times when he was touring the county teaching people why property taxes were expanding because of politicians who exceeded what was known as "the constant yield." He told the people to not let their elected officials off easy when their homes became more expensive to live in. We often discussed the effects on families and senior citizens when governments confiscated what we work for only to pass it on to their cronies.
By 1990, we found ourselves both running for the Baltimore County Council. He was a Dundalk Democrat, and I was a Parkville Republican. We were both outraged that the county sent its lawyers to fight against the very right of citizens to vote on a referendum to limit property taxes. Somehow, we both won. Don and I spent four years together raising bipartisan hell in Towson to limit property taxes and big spending.
Don was not a one-issue councilman either. When he wanted to protect police officers by requiring bullet proof vests, Don set an example by wearing the extra weight every day for over two weeks.
Councilman Mason thrived on controversy. He often called me on the phone to say something like, "Bill, you know we're doing the right thing — the Sunpapers and Patuxent Publishing are both mad as hell!" He was always proud to buck the Towson establishment. Once when an editorial referred to him as "pudgy," rather than strike back or be angry, Don had fun with the term and even referred to himself that way during several council meetings.
Everyone who supported Don should be most proud of him when he showed absolute cool and dignity when he was unfairly attacked on the issue of an unpopular soil reclamation plant in the Route 40 corridor. People who Don once gave loyal and valuable support to tried to ensure their own political capital by falsely claiming Don approved the project despite the fact that the permits were issued at the state level.
Don's approach was to simply tell the truth and let the lies about him fall apart. I was young then and learned a lot by respecting my elder on the County Council. Sadly, what few people knew was just how much those betrayals and attacks contributed to Don not seeking a second term that would have been good for the county. Don told me, "I don't need more of this. These other politicians will do anything to keep getting elected. Not me." Again, he was a better man than most of what we get in government.
However, leaving politics did not mean leaving the fight for freedom. Don Mason played a role in the following elections and community issues that mattered for the next two decades. He was a great man molded from a great generation. The people of Baltimore County and Dundalk will miss him.
William A. Howard IV
The writer is a former Baltimore County Councilman from the 6th District.-
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