Thomas M. Yeager, a veteran conservative Democrat who served three terms in the Maryland Senate and earlier had been a member of the Howard County Council for eight years, died Saturday at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis after suffering a stroke.
He was 73 and lived in Fulton.
"He was a great man. Every Howard County citizen who enjoys today's public schools and quality of life owes a big thanks to Tom Yeager. During the formative years of the county, he worked hard for those things," former Howard Republican state Sen. Martin G. Madden said Tuesday.
"And after serving 12 years in Annapolis, he returned to Howard County the same humble person he was when he left," Mr. Madden said.
Mr. Yeager, the son of a coal miner and a homemaker, was born and raised in Hastings, Pa.
After graduating from Hastings High School in 1954, he served in the Air Force for two years as a radar and radio technician, until being discharged in 1957.
He earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1963 from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master's degree in 1969 in business administration from American University in Washington.
Mr. Yeager began working for Hewlett-Packard Co. in 1964, and at the time of his retirement in 1994 was Baltimore district sales manager.
In a 1981 article in The Baltimore Sun, Mr. Yeager explained his reasons for seeking public office.
"I have always considered the major reason a candidate runs for public office is the desire and willingness to serve and make an attempt to provide better government," Mr. Yeager said.
Mr. Yeager was elected to the Howard County Council in 1975, where he served until 1983. For three of those years, he was council chairman.
In 1982, he announced his candidacy for District 13, then a newly created legislative district, which encompassed Elkridge and parts of southern Howard and Prince George's counties.
Mr. Yeager became the first state senator to represent the district, winning by a margin of 23 votes over Kay G. Bienen of Laurel, a two-term member of the House of Delegates.
During his years in Annapolis, issues that concerned Mr. Yeager included criminal justice reform, victim's rights, child abuse, growth and taxes.
He was appointed to the Task Force on Victim's Services in 1984, and a year later, Gov. Harry R. Hughes named him to the Child Support Enforcement Advisory Council.
Elizabeth Bobo, former member of the Howard County Council who is now a member of the House of Delegates, was a colleague and old friend.
"We were not always in agreement on the same spectrum of issues because Tom was more conservative than I am. He was a straight shooter, and you never had to figure out what he was saying," Ms. Bobo recalled.
"He loved the Earth and was concerned about land use because he knew he represented a county and the new town of Columbia," she said.
"He was very respectful of land and water [issues], and they were good causes that he took to Annapolis."
Robert L. Flanagan, a former delegate and state transportation secretary, was a longtime friend.
"He was, in the era of partisanship, just the opposite. He didn't care whether an issue was Republican or Democratic," Mr. Flanagan said. "He wanted to make sure that it reached those he represented. He was a wonderful human being."
Mr. Yeager was defeated in a 1994 Senate primary by Del. Virginia M. Thomas.
He also retired from Hewlett-Packard that year and devoted more time to the 5.4-acre farm he maintained near Clarksville.
Mr. Yeager gave friends, families, churches and other local organizations Christmas trees he grew on his land. He kept bees and also made jams, jellies and sauerkraut, which he also gave away.
"Tom was a passionate gardener and beekeeper," said Mr. Madden, who said he referred to Mr. Yeager's little farm as "The Grove."
"He nailed a sign to an oak tree that said, 'The Oak Tree Lounge. Proprietor Tom Yeager. Established 1974,' " Mr. Madden said. "There was a picnic table where we'd sit with a cold beverage or two, discussing the political considerations of the day."
In his younger days, Mr. Yeager had been a long-distance runner, and he had completed numerous Maryland, Baltimore and Marine Corps marathons. In recent years, he performed daily 5-mile power walks.
"He had gone on a 5-mile power walk the morning of his stroke," said his son, Thomas N. Yeager of Chestertown.
He was a staunch fan of University of Maryland football and women's and men's lacrosse, and was a founding member of the Howard County University of Maryland Alumni Club.
Mr. Yeager was an active member of the Yingling-Ridgeley Post 7472 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Ellicott City, and American Legion Post 60 in Laurel.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. today at the Donaldson Funeral Home, 313 Talbott Ave., Laurel.
Also surviving are his wife of 49 years, the former Olivia Scaggs; a daughter, Laura L. Yeager Minnick of Fort Worth, Texas; two brothers, Merle R. Yeager of Philipsburg, Pa., and Russell E. Yeager of Hastings; two sisters, Delora Carruba of Ellicott City and Gladys Pavlock of Curwensville, Pa.; and two grandsons.