Author Tom Clancy came to Carroll County 35 years ago as a child to visit the Colts football camp. Needy county children brought him back to the county last night for the first time since 1958.
"Kids are the most important thing we have," he told about 350 members and guests of the Carroll County Children's Fund. "If you don't do something for kids, what are you?"
The best-selling author left the world of high-tech espionage to speak at the organization's annual dinner, which members hoped would raise about $3,000 to assist county families in meeting children's medical and surgical expenses.
Those in the audience paid $25 each for the dinner, many of them just to hear Mr. Clancy.
Eileen Johnson, incoming president of the group, called landing him as speaker a real coup.
"Mr. Clancy wrote an article for the Sun Magazine about a terminally ill child, and it showed his interest in children's issues," she said. "Ours is the only invitation of its type that he has accepted."
Mr. Clancy became interested in children's issues several years ago when a young, terminally ill fan wrote to him about "The Hunt for Red October," his first best-seller.
The friendship endured until the child died of cancer two years ago.
Mr. Clancy has established a memorial foundation in the child's name and dedicated his latest novel to him.
"I support any organization which does things for the child," he said. "You are doing things for our future."
The man who writes of Cold War struggles included a brief outline of world history in his talk and ended on an optimistic note.
"War as an instrument of national policy will be at an end by the end of this century," he said. "The U.S. brought peace and democracy to the world."
He offered to answer a few questions, but none on his latest literary effort. "I don't discuss works in progress," he said.
Fielding one query about his part ownership of the Baltimore Orioles, he said, "We are in a pennant race already. I have never in my life gotten in anything to lose."
He encouraged members of the fund to hold on to their dreams and make progress happen. "We can fix anything if we try hard enough."
Ms. Johnson said the 10-year-old Children's Fund paid $14,200 in medical expenses for 14 county children in fiscal 1993.
Since July, members have paid another $10,000 to families who have exhausted other means of assistance.
The first group of its kind in the nation, the fund has helped 103 children under age 19 since 1983.
"We have had a big increase in applications and have to devise fund-raising operations to keep up," said Ms. Johnson, who has been involved with the group since it began.
"For the last several years, we have been spending more than we are taking in."