Just before paying her respects to Dr. Aris T. Allen yesterday, Juanita Booze sat down and shook her head sadly.
"He was too nice a person for this," she said.
By late afternoon, almost 350 people from all walks of life -- young and old, black and white, teachers, neighbors, politicians and one-time patients -- had come to the Hicks Funeral Home in Annapolis. They came to say goodbye, to pay tribute and to try to make some senseof a peaceful man's violent, sudden death.
A medical doctor, leader in the black community and a respected politician, Allen, 80, shothimself in the head with a shotgun late Friday afternoon. He had learned Wednesday that he had terminal prostate cancer.
Private funeral services for Allen will be held today. Yesterday's public visitation, held from noon to 9 p.m., was suffused with the same peaceful dignity that everyone agrees was a part of Allen's personality.
Mourners grieved quietly, sitting on wooden folding chairs before Allen's coffin, flag-draped and surrounded with flowers. Some of them prayed. Most stared at the coffin or flipped through a six-page pamphlet outlining Allen's many achievements.
"He had a tremendous life," saidstate transportation secretary and former county executive O. James Lighthizer, pausing to look at some photographs of Allen that had been taped on the wall. "Very few people can make the impact he did, anddo it with a lack of controversy. I don't know anyone who didn't like Dr. Allen."
Philip L. Brown, Allen's friend and neighbor in Arundel on the Bay for the last 40 years, said Allen delivered his two grandchildren. "He came too late, or he would have delivered (my sons, Errol and Philip Jr.), too," Brown said.
"We just feel sorrow," said Brown, who attended the visitation with his sons and his wife, Rachel. "Naturally we are going to miss him. We were such good friends."
Kathy Miller, a community activist from Annapolis, said she occasionally worked with Allen on drug and alcohol issues for the last five years. "I came to spend a few moments thinking about how much he touched people's lives," she said.
Jackie Tyler of Annapolis said she never met Allen, but her husband, Richard, who is out of town, had worked with him in the community. "He was so impressed with what a gentleman he was, what a good person," that Tyler said she felt compelled to pay her respects.
Even for people who didn't know Allen, thenight he died "was like the night we heard about the invasion of Iraq, where everyone just stopped in their steps," Tyler said. "It kind of just paralyzed everyone."
Tyler and Miller said they have dwelled little on the way Allen died, focusing instead on his accomplishments, which include being Anne Arundel's first black school board member, a state delegate and senator, and Ronald Reagan's appointee as medical affairs adviser to the Health Care Financing Administration.
Most mourners, however, expressed puzzlement and sadness that Allen chose to take his own life.
"He had counseled many people whose relatives had committed suicide," Lighthizer said. "This was totally contradictory to his life."
Booze was one of Allen's former patients. Her mother worked as Allen's medical secretary when he practiced on Cathedral Street. She said she has been struggling to understand whyAllen killed himself.
"Everybody doesn't take sickness the same way, and even though he was a doctor, I guess some people just don't want to suffer," she said. "Maybe he just wanted the easy way out."
Floral tributes to Allen were sent by, among others, the members of the Maryland General Assembly, to which he had been reelected in November; the Anne Arundel Republican Central Committee; the Maryland Republican Party; and the Anne Arundel Association of Realtors.
In the guest book provided by the funeral home, several people wrote a brief message expressing their admiration for Allen.
One visitor wrote, "Aris -- a true prince among men."