In the past week the Carroll County community has lost two storied and celebrated links to our past. Elmer C. Lippy, Jr., 93, of Manchester, died Oct. 13 at the Long View Nursing Home in Manchester. Ruth Ellen Leppo, 75, of Westminster, died Oct. 12 at the Carroll Lutheran Village Health Care Center.
Leppo was a substitute teacher for many years at Westminster and Elmer Wolfe Elementary Schools. Moreover she was well-known and beloved by much of the law enforcement community as the wife of the late, long-serving Westminster Police Chief, Sam Leppo, who died at the age of 53 in an off-duty automobile accident on Aug. 4, 1999.
Chief Leppo had joined the Westminster police department in 1967, after serving in the Army, and was appointed chief in 1976, making him the longest-serving police chief in active service in the state, according to an Aug. 8, 1999 Baltimore Sun article. In the 32 years Chief Leppo served on the force, he barely missed a day of work.
At the time, Westminster police Lt. Pat Bassler spoke for many when he said, "When you had problems, he would come and ask if there was anything he could do, he was always there for you…"
Sam and Ruth became institutions in the community as they helped shepherd Westminster and Carroll County from the past into the future.
According to the Baltimore Sun, "Leppo was a vigorous leader of a police department that grew from 7 officers when he joined in 1967 to 42," in 1999. "From bulletproof vests for officers to a new radio communications system to a new police department building, the chief left his mark on public safety in the Carroll County seat."
Ruth Leppo was always there for her husband and what was in those days, a very close-knit Westminster and Carroll County "family" of public servants, elected and appointed officials.
Both Ruth and Sam were low-key, if not reserved, in public. Publicly they were loath to complain, cared greatly about the community and worked selflessly and tirelessly for the public.
Although Chief Leppo was the public face, Ruth was a key and critical component of his success. She was well-spoken, kind, understanding and compassionate and as well-liked and admired as her husband.
So much so that a police honor guard was present at her casket as hundreds poured into the Myers-Durboraw Funeral Home in Westminster to share fond memories, celebrate her life and pay their respects to family and friends.
Lippy, a former Manchester mayor and Carroll County commissioner also forged a link from our past by his distinguished public service.
Lippy's long-standing tenure as an elected official was chronicled in a March 30, 1999 article in the Baltimore Sun: "Lippy has served split stints as mayor and one term as county commissioner since retiring in 1985 as a senior chemist with Lever Bros. in Baltimore. A Democrat, he served on the Town Council for two years before his election as mayor in 1987. He won his second four-year term in 1995, defeating his second cousin for the job. Lippy was a county commissioner from 1990 to 1994. He lost his bid for a second term in 1994 and ran unsuccessfully for Orphan's Court judge last fall…."
He was known not only for his intelligent approach to public service, and his loyalty and hard work for Manchester and Carroll County, but for his dry sense of humor and quick wit. He was friendly if not jovial in his personal approach to complex government problems.
Lippy was born in Manchester on April 11, 1920. He was as dedicated to his church and his wife as well as to his community. He was the husband of 70 years in November to Mabel Caroline Bishop Lippy. He was also a faithful member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Manchester, where he sang in the choir for 70 years.
A June 12, 1997 Baltimore Sun article reported, "Lippy governs with a disarming sense of humor and a genuine affection for this small town… Lippy may have a grandfatherly demeanor and be quick with a quip, but he's all business when it comes to pressing town issues… He approaches the serious and the seemingly silly with a willingness to listen and learn…."
Stop and think of any great Carroll Countian that has gone on before us, and remember that history is often the sanitized and romanticized version of difficult events, in which ordinary folks stepped up to do extraordinary things. Their accomplishments are the stuff of legend, but their day-to-day struggle to make a difference was the stuff of great sacrifice.
Carroll County has been fortunate to have many native sons and daughters who made a difference in our community. Ruth Leppo and Elmer Lippy are remembered fondly as great community leaders who forged links from the past and influenced our future. I had the distinct honor and privilege of having worked with both individuals.