Howard County Times

As memorial event nears, family and friends recall Dennis Lane

Dennis Lane

On May 9, Dennis Lane stopped for lunch with companions at Clyde's of Columbia, one of his favorite spots. Folks say you wouldn't have to see him to know he was there because you'd hear the big laugh, or see the crowd of people around him, sharing views of local politics, business, the latest beer available in growlers in Ellicott City.

That night, the writer and commercial real estate broker-consultant posted to "Tales of Two Cities," the blog about Ellicott City and Columbia he'd been writing steadily since 2006. Written under the name "Wordbones," it was a part of a public presence that also included a column in The Business Monthly and a twice-monthly online podcast recorded at The Mall in Columbia.


Lane's local "celebrity" status was his own running joke. He would often introduce himself by paraphrasing Will Ferrell from the movie "Anchorman" — "I don't know if you know this, but I'm kind of a big deal."

So Lane's friends thought it seemed right, when the time came to plan a memorial service in his honor, to call the event "Kind of a Big Deal," suggesting Lane, for all his convictions about his community, never took himself too seriously.


At 2 p.m. Tuesday, friends and family will gather at Merriweather Post Pavilion to share recollections, less than a month after May 10, the day the 58-year-old man was found stabbed to death in his upstairs bedroom at home in Ellicott City.

His 14 year-old daughter, Morgan Lane Arnold, and her 19-year-old boyfriend, Jason Anthony Bulmer, have been charged with first-degree murder in Lane's killing, and both are charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit murder. They are charged as adults.

Lane's siblings are expected to be at Merriweather, as is his fiancee, Denise Geiger, business associates, public officials, other bloggers and people who knew him from the local party and events circuit. Everybody knew him, because it would have been hard to be in Howard County long without hearing the name, if not personally meeting the white-haired man with the ruddy complexion, ready wit and omnipresent red scarf — worn sometimes even in mild weather.

"He had a personality as big as all outdoors," said Dick Story, a senior vice president at JPB Partners Inc., a private equity firm based in Columbia. The two shared many business discussions during Story's 17-plus years as director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority.

Soon after Story retired from that position in 2011, a roast featured Lane as the first speaker. A video of the event shows him dressed in a black tuxedo, joking about Story's tendency to misread economic trends, once leaving Lane's company with 130,000 square feet of newly constructed office buildings that couldn't be rented.

"While others will say he will be missed, I will be drinking a toast to having survived 17 years of his help," said Lane, noting that Story's timing was at last fortuitous, as he and his partners just finished putting up a new office building.

"With Dick gone, I figure we've got a halfway decent chance of leasing it," Lane said.

Ouch. Or perhaps not.


"Everything he did was in good nature," Story said. "It was his spirit, his spirit that was larger than life. He was always looking for the fun in something. His laughter would fill a room."

As news spread about Lane's death, reaction poured in on the HoCoBlogs site and attached in comments on his last post on "Tale of Two Cities." Headlined "Beans Last Days" and posted at 9:26 p.m. — about seven hours before he was attacked — it consisted of just two paragraphs on the fact that the L.L. Bean store at the Mall in Columbia was closing after 12 years, making way for a new plaza and main entrance.

Along with expressions of disbelief at his death were appreciations of his humor, his concern for the county and his perspective on the local scene. It was fitting that tributes were made in the Howard County blogosphere, given his role in creating it, said Jessie Newburn, a founder of HoCoBlogs.

Newburn said that Lane, not content to meet fellow bloggers in virtual space, first suggested they meet in real places such as Clyde's, the Second Chance Saloon, Stanford Grill in Columbia. Sometime around 2007, the Howard County "blogtail" party was born.

"He was foundational," Newburn said in an interview. "He helped to co-create the community where people had the space to express their grief and shock and sadness."

Since Lane started "Tales," the HoCoBlogs database has grown from a handful to about 350 bloggers, but Lane stood out for his consistent posting, his insight and knowledge, she said.


"Tales" started on a Friday in October 2006 with a post decrying writers of letters to the Columbia Flier who appropriated, for their own purposes, the words of Columbia founder James Rouse. Lane worked for Rouse in the late 1970s and early 1980s and was particularly peeved that Rouse's words were used in arguments against more urban redevelopment with taller buildings in downtown Columbia, for which Lane was a persistent advocate.

In the same post, he lambasted Kimco Realty for its management of village centers in Columbia.

"The success and uniqueness of the centers were the core of the Columbia concept," Lane wrote. "What happened? Kimco Realty, the village landlords, have somehow determined through intense market research, that after 40 years of evolving, Columbia residents like to do three things. Eat bagels … get our nails done … and buy liquor."

Over the years, Lane's "Wordbones" meandered from doings in politics and commercial real estate to reports on events, observations on the changing seasons, hikes in Patapsco Valley State Park, the new patio at the Pure Wine Cafe in Ellicott City. Unlike many more intermittent bloggers, Lane kept at it, day after day. After he suffered a heart attack in fall 2007, he even started a second short-lived blog called "The Heart Attack Guy."

Both the blog and the podcast dealt often with politics, but Lane fit no standard partisan category.

"He was an independent thinker," said longtime friend Paul Skalny, who co-hosted the "And Then There's That …" podcast with Lane from the time it started in November 2009. "He was very comfortable challenging people on the right and the left."


He was as independent about his writing life. He enjoyed writing, and he wanted to do it on his own terms and his own topic: Howard County.

Mark Smith, his editor at The Business Monthly, found that out when he once suggested that Lane try writing on Anne Arundel County, which the publication also covers along with Howard. As Smith recalled, Lane had a one-word response: "France."

Arundel, in other words, might as well be a foreign country. Lane's writing enthusiasm was strictly focused on Howard, and especially Columbia. The Catonsville native moved to Columbia with his family in the late 1960s, in the very early years of the planned community, and graduated from Wilde Lake High School.

People talk about how much he loved Columbia, and also how much he loved Clyde's on Lake Kittamaqundi. People could find him there a couple of times a week, said general manager Paul Kraft.

Tom Coale, a member of the Columbia Association board who writes the chiefly political blog HoCo Rising, found that he was drawn to Clyde's the morning of May 10. He'd gotten a call with the news of Lane's death at his law office in Baltimore and realized he would not be able to concentrate on his work.

He left, meaning to go home. But as he left the parking garage, he knew he was headed to Clyde's, where he and Lane met for the first time in 2009.


"I posted something on Facebook that I was here," Coale said. "I knew he loved this place. He would want us to do something."

Soon others began to arrive: County Councilwoman Courtney Watson, state Sen. Allan Kittleman, Del. Guy Guzzone, Skalny and Dave Bittner, who produced the podcast. Fifteen to 20 people were there at the height of the impromptu gathering, sharing bewilderment at what had happened and the comfort of being among friends.

"There was a lot of laughter," said Bittner. "And we shed a lot of tears."

For Coale, who considered Lane a mentor as well as a friend and friendly rival for hits in the blogosphere, the meaning of Lane's death for him personally and for the community is scarcely yet clear.

"Someone as big and alive as Dennis was — to be gone — is very hard to come to terms with," said Coale.


Dennis Lane memorial

The memorial service for Dennis Lane will be Tuesday, June 4, at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia. Organizers are suggesting that attendees wear something red in memory of Lane's signature red scarf. A social begins at 2 p.m., followed by the program at 3 p.m.