Friend seeks healing effect in memorial to ex-council chairman who took own life Possibilities include tree, bench, plaque, written history


Laura Waters hopes that establishing a memorial for former Columbia Council Chairman John M. Hansen will have a healing effect on the community, much like building a memorial garden for her son, Alex, who died at age 17, helped ease her grief.

The Harper's Choice village resident, who was a friend of Mr. Hansen's, is seeking approval from the council to establish a memorial that would reflect the former chairman's dedication to improving the quality of life for Columbia residents.

Mr. Hansen was found dead at age 52 of a gunshot wound to the head in what county police and medical examiners have ruled a suicide at his Harper's Choice village home Sept. 3.

"The community needs a way to heal from something like this," said Ms. Waters, who gave a personal tribute at Mr. Hansen's memorial service Sept. 13, comparing the impact of his death with her son's. "One way is a memorial that meant something to the person who died."

Last year, she dedicated a memorial garden in front of her house to Alex, who had muscular dystrophy and died of pneumonia in 1988.

At his funeral, one of Alex's teachers at Centennial High School told Ms. Waters that Alex had asked her to give his mother something "alive and purple" in his memory rather than a "sappy card."

Ms. Waters completed The Alex Garden in 1992 and commemorated it with a plaque that reads, "May Alex's spirit live in this garden and in everyone who loves him." She had a celebration to dedicate it.

"It was very meaningful for everyone who knew him and to me," Ms. Waters said. "It was a very healing experience.

"John's death was just as hard to take as that. I was really close to him."

Mr. Hansen served from 1987 to 1989 on the Harper's Choice village board, including one year as chairman, and later represented the village for four years on the council.

He was council chairman from 1992-93 before resigning in May, citing personal reasons and a moral conflict with a disputed Long Reach village election. Ms. Waters, a Harper's Choice village board member, gave a party for Mr. Hansen after his resignation in recognition of his community service.

Ms. Waters is acting independently of the village board in pursuing a memorial to her friend.

The village board contributed $500 to a memorial fund in Mr. Hansen's name for The Community Support Center, an organization run by the board that makes grants to local nonprofit groups. The support center has received an additional $85 in contributions from individuals, said village manager Wendy Tzuker.

The board has decided to divide contributions evenly between the Family Life Center in Wilde Lake village to help start a support group for men and Grassroots, which runs crisis intervention and suicide prevention counseling.

Ms. Waters has proposed several ideas for a memorial and is set to propose a specific project later if the council approves of the general concept tomorrow night.

The council acts as the board of directors for the private, nonprofit Columbia Association, which provides and manages recreational facilities, community programs and common grounds for residents.

Ms. Waters' ideas include planting a tree or placing a bench in memory of Mr. Hansen at a Columbia lake or Symphony Woods; placing a plaque on one of the boardwalks that will cross wetlands at the planned Fairway Hills Golf Course because of Mr. Hansen's concern for environmental protection; or commissioning a written history of Columbia because of Mr. Hansen's affinity for the community and the written word.

Mr. Hansen was an associate professor of English at Catonsville Community College for 23 years.

Money for the memorial would be raised by the Columbia Democratic Club, in which Mr. Hansen served as vice president.

"He was a special person," said Democratic Club President Wanda Hurt. "We need to do something permanent so people will know his name in the future."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad