Laura Vozzella: Driving Mr. Schaefer

The church was crammed with the biggest names in Maryland politics, past and present. Governors. Senators. Members of Congress. Mayors and other leaders in city and state government.

But when it came time for shout-outs from the pulpit, the very first person that aide Lainy LeBow-Sachs thanked for his service to William Donald Schaefer was someone you've probably never heard of: Ross Freistat.

The name has never been splashed on a bumper sticker or listed on a ballot. It belongs to Schaefer's driver.

Freistat was hired 41/2 years ago to be Schaefer's chauffer. Over the years, as Schaefer got out less, the job became less about driving and more about keeping Schaefer company.

"The first year, we put 40,000 miles on the car going different places," said Freistat, who lives in Perry Hall. "Second year, 20,000."

He continued to work at least 40 hours a week right up to the end, tending to Schaefer's needs and just hanging out with him.

"Since he didn't have a family person, I wanted to stay and be that person for him," Freistat said. "And that way, I could help him."

They still got out a bit, even in the past year as Schaefer's health declined. Freistat would take Schaefer to meet with old friends, but sometimes it was just the two of them, getting out of the Charlestown retirement community for the day.

"About three months ago, we went out to Western Maryland and had lunch," Freistat said. "We just went out just to see the countryside. We drove up Catoctin Mountain and we came down and had lunch at the Cozy Inn in Thurmont."

Schaefer usually sat in the back of the Lincoln Town Car, but the two were truly friends, not just driver and passenger. When they weren't on the road, they spent time watching and listening to political speeches, music and shows that the 49-year-old Freistat was too young to remember. But sitting with Schaefer, he loved every minute.

"He liked Eddy Arnold. He liked listing to the old radio shows," Freistat said. "We'd mix it up. 'The Shadow' and Milton Berle. Churchill was his favorite."

Cleanup on Charles Street

This is not what Schaefer meant by "Do it now!":

A police horse trotting up Charles Street ahead of Schaefer's hearse lifted its tail and dropped some manure right in front of Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

This is what he meant:

Bob Douglas, decked out like the trial lawyer and DLA Piper partner that he is, reached into a nearby sidewalk trash can and pulled out a plastic liner dripping with who-knows-what, perhaps something worse than horse poo.

"Super doggie bag," Douglas pronounced it. Then he headed for the pile.

Never mind the fine suit and wingtips, the crowd of funeral onlookers, the cameras, the lawyerly dignity. Schaefer's former State House press secretary and communications director squatted in the street and started scooping. It was the last, and maybe messiest, civic duty he could perform for the boss.

Cleaning the street certainly wasn't Douglas' responsibility, except that like any good Schaeferite, he'd been trained to consider anything that needed doing his job.

That manly man

As Schaefer took his final tour of the city earlier this week, the owner of Dalesio's created a special tribute outside his Little Italy restaurant to his longtime friend.

Paul Oliver set tables of Schaefer memorabilia out on the sidewalk in front of Dalesio's, where the former mayor and governor spent much time eating, meeting with top campaign aides and, occasionally, greeting customers at the door and answering the phone.

The display included old photos, official memos and even a thank-you note for the Calvin Klein cologne Oliver gave Schaefer for Christmas 2005.

"What a refreshing and thoughtful surprise," Schaefer wrote. "I'm sure I'll turn a few female heads when I walk into a room."


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