As co-sponsor of the 2004 legislation that created the Maryland Department of Disabilities as a cabinet-level agency, former 42nd District State Del. William Frank helped champion equal opportunities for the disabled.
Three years later, the Baltimore County Republican joined the ranks of the disabled when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
Now, Frank, 55, of Lutherville, is about to become their ambassador. On April 20, he starts his new job as deputy secretary of the department he helped create. He was appointed to the post last week by Gov. Larry Hogan and department Secretary Carol Beatty.
"I guess I have a greater empathy for people with a disability," he said Thursday.
Frank served in the House of Delegates for 12 years and is former chief deputy minority whip of the House Republican Caucus and a former member of the House Appropriations Committee. He later served on the House Health and Human Resources Subcommittee, overseeing the budget for the Department of Disabilities.
Last year, he passed up a run for a fourth term, not because of his Parkinson's, but because he figured three terms was long enough.
This year, he was awarded the prestigious Thomas Kennedy Medallion, an award presented to former members of the House of Delegates in recognition of personal courage and dedication to the principles of liberty and freedom.
Frank considers himself a good fit for his new post, not only because of his affinity for people with disabilities, but because of his state government experience.
"I have a pretty good familiarity with the budgetary process," he said.
"We are truly fortunate to have someone with Bill's experience working on behalf of people with disabilities," Beatty said in a prepared statement. "I envision a strong working partnership, one in which we position Maryland as a national leader providing greater opportunities for employment, education, housing and independence for all of our citizens."
Frank said he won't be tied to a desk as deputy secretary of the department. He anticipates being "more of an ambassador," and that his main role will be to travel around the state, visiting programs for people with disabilities and seeing how they work.
He is taking medication for Parkinson's and is working with a neurologist. He said he has physical "peaks and valleys" through the day and that Parkinson's has affected his speech and has made his voice softer. But he feels up to the job.
"It's a degenerative disease but [researchers are] making great strides," he said. "I take it one day at a time. I have great stamina and I'm passionate about [the new job], so I'm going to give 110 percent."
"I have known Bill Frank for many years as a tireless advocate for the people of Maryland," Hogan said in a prepared statement. "I know he will bring this dedication and commitment to his role as deputy secretary to the benefit of Marylanders with disabilities and their families."
"I'm grateful that the governor has confidence in me," said Frank, whose first job out of college in 1982 was working for Hogan's father, Larry Hogan Sr., on his unsuccessful campaign against then-first-term U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes.
After serving on the House Appropriations Committee, Frank later on the House Health and Human Resources Subcommittee, where he oversaw the budget for the disabilities department and other disabilities programs.
Most recently, Frank was director of development for the Baltimore-based Center for Pregnancy Concerns, a fundraising role. Previously, he was project coordinator for the St. Joseph Medical Center Powered by ME! initiative, a community-based campaign to educate parents, coaches and student athletes about anabolic steroids and performance enhancing drugs.
Frank received a bachelor's degree in political science from Mount St. Mary's University and a master's in management from Johns Hopkins University. His wife, Mary Jeanne, is a nurse manager at Stella Maris. The Franks have three children; Kathleen, an attorney in St. Petersburg, Fla.; Meredith, a graduate of the University of Maryland and a doctoral candidate in audiology at Towson University; and Michael, a sophomore at the University of Maryland.