Senator, war hero backed civil rights

The Baltimore Sun

Daniel Baugh Brewster, a former U.S. senator and decorated war hero who rose above a public battle with alcoholism and a corruption scandal, died of liver cancer at his Owings Mills home late Sunday. He was 83.

"His life was devoted to his country and to the state of Maryland," said his son Gerry Brewster of Towson. "It wasn't a perfect life. He made mistakes and he had setbacks, but he became an inspiration by overcoming those mistakes."

"He was a hero in every way," said former Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"Danny Brewster always enjoyed a privileged socioeconomic position but was in every aspect of his personal and governmental life a man of compassion," said Bobby Knatz, Mr. Brewster's administrative assistant while he was in the Senate in the 1960s and a friend of 50 years.

"He always believed in the dignity of his fellow man and projected that respect regardless of race, color, creed or economic status," said Mr. Knatz, special assistant to Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

The former senator, a Democrat, was a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin, said his son, who wrote a 275-page biography of his father for his senior thesis at Princeton.

Mr. Brewster's great-grandfather, Benjamin Harris Brewster, was U.S. attorney general from 1881 to 1885 under President Chester A. Arthur.

The first of five children, Daniel Baugh Brewster became the man of the house at age 10 when his father died. His mother remarried, but his stepfather soon died, leaving him the oldest of six children, including a half-sister, Gerry Brewster said.

Daniel Brewster attended Gilman School in Baltimore and St. Paul School in Concord, N.H., where he was president of the Class of 1942. He immediately started a summer session at Princeton University and volunteered for the Marine Corps in the fall at age 19, his son said.

Daniel Brewster was a troop commander as a young lieutenant in a raider battalion with the 4th Marine Regiment of the 6th Marine Division, his son said.

Mr. Brewster, who led assault waves on Guam in 1944 and Okinawa in 1945, was wounded seven times in three incidents. The family has the helmet he was wearing when he was shot in the head on Sugar Loaf Hill on Okinawa, his son said.

Senator Brewster had a scar on his forehead where the bullet lifted the helmet and grazed his scalp, his son said. He was awarded a Purple Heart, two Gold Stars and two Bronze Stars.

Despite his privileged upbringing, the war and the cultural realities he saw when he returned home instilled in Daniel Brewster a "real passion for civil rights and equal treatment for all people," his son said.

While overseas as a Marine officer, he was outraged after a sergeant under his command executed several Japanese prisoners their platoon had captured.

"I asked the sergeant where his prisoners were, and he replied that they had tried to escape and he had to shoot them," Mr. Brewster told Michael H. Rogers, editor of Answering Their Country's Call: Marylanders in World War II, published by the Johns Hopkins University Press in 2002.

"I called him a liar and just shook my head. I had to call back to headquarters and tell them we had no prisoners coming. Some men just could not accept having even just a few Japanese survive," he said.

Mr. Brewster returned to Sugar Loaf Hill in the 1960s and found it a much different place. A housing development occupied the former battlefield, which he described as a "deadly fought over piece of land."

"There were no signs or memorials to remember all the Marines who fought and died on that very spot," he said.

Later, some of his Green Spring Valley neighbors were outraged that he invited to his home African-American friends he had met during the war.

"That is what propelled him to run for office," his son said. "He saw things in society he wanted to change."

He attended night and day school at the Johns Hopkins University until he earned enough credits to enroll in the University of Maryland School of Law. He graduated in 1949 by supplementing his coursework with night classes at George Washington University's law school.

He then formed a law practice with John Grason Turnbull, then majority leader of the Maryland Senate, Gerry Brewster said.

At the time, Mr. Brewster was known as a "gentleman jockey," riding in steeplechases such as the Maryland Hunt Cup five times.

With fame as a war hero and as a jockey, he was elected to a countywide House of Delegates seat representing Baltimore County in 1950, at age 26, and served two terms.

Lou Panos, a former Evening Sun writer and now a Towson Times columnist, covered the Maryland General Assembly when Daniel Brewster was a member. Mr. Panos said one of the politician's shining moments came when the legislature was debating a proposal to give bonuses to World War II veterans.

"He had several Purple Hearts, but he spoke out against the bonus bill, saying that he had felt honored to serve his country and wanted nothing but the pride and memory of having done so, and he did not think veterans should have a special payment for that privilege," Mr. Panos said. "The bill failed."

Former Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said Senator Brewster was attractive and popular, with a bearing like that of President John F. Kennedy.

"He moved very well with the Hunt Valley people who were very well-connected, and yet he was very popular in other parts of the county, in Catonsville and Essex and Dundalk," Mr. Curran said. "That showed you were a man of many characteristics."

Former Gov. Marvin Mandel said, "Danny came from a very well-to-do family, but he was always considerate about the welfare of people and helping out people. He was one of the people I first got to know who had a number of things in life that others didn't, but he was willing to share it with everyone."

Edgar Silver, a retired judge who served in the House of Delegates with Daniel Brewster, said his colleague looked every bit the Greenspring Valley blueblood patrician.

"He was a leader, tall, very stately, carried himself wonderfully," yet had an easy manner with people of all backgrounds, Mr. Silver said.

"He was very compassionate and very understanding, and he knew what diversity really is," Mr. Silver said. "After all, here I am from the city, and it's very unusual for ... anyone of his background to really have anything to do with me, but he was just warm and friendly, no matter where you're from."

In 1954, Mr. Brewster married Carol Leiper de Havenon, a magazine cover girl and pioneer female steeplechase rider. They owned and operated Worthington Farms, a 500-acre horse and cattle farm in Glyndon that was home to the Maryland Hunt Cup.

In 1958, Mr. Brewster was elected to Congress from Maryland's 2nd District, which then encompassed Harford, Carroll and Baltimore counties. He served two terms.

Mr. Brewster was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, at age 39. In 1964, he was the stand-in candidate for President Lyndon B. Johnson when Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace, a segregationist, ran in Maryland's Democratic presidential primary, a test battle amid the debate over a civil rights bill that Mr. Johnson supported.

"The eyes of the nation were truly on Maryland, on that race," Gerry Brewster said. "It was going to be one of the determining factors on whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would pass."

During the heated campaigning, a News American article reported that his wife's life was threatened if he did not leave the primary. That prompted prominent senators to campaign on his behalf.

Mr. Brewster was proud that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer started their careers in his Senate offices.

"Daniel Brewster's legacy can be found in his commitment to civil rights, his ability to find strength through adversity and his devotion to the state of Maryland and its people," Mrs. Pelosi said in a statement.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Brewster spent weeks on the front lines in Vietnam in 1965, his son said. He remained active in the Marine Corps Reserve through the Vietnam War and retired as a full colonel after three decades of service.

Senator Brewster advised President Johnson that he had concerns about the war but continued to support it, which his son described as "the worst political mistake that he made."

"Senator Brewster has always been a proud American but regretted in later years that he had taken a hawkish position on Lyndon Johnson's conduct of the Vietnam War," Mr. Knatz said.

In 1967, Mr. Brewster attended the funeral of William Bullitt, the U.S. ambassador to France. There, he became reacquainted with Anne Bullitt, Mr. Bullitt's daughter and Mr. Brewster's first fiancee, who had jilted the senator while he was overseas during the war.

Mr. Brewster divorced his first wife and married Miss Bullitt. That marriage also ended in divorce.

His complicated personal life, his support of the Vietnam War and his increasingly serious problems with alcohol took their toll, and Mr. Brewster lost his 1968 re-election bid to close friend Charles McC. Mathias Jr., a law school classmate and a Frederick County Republican.

Mr. Brewster was an usher at Mr. Mathias' wedding, and Mr. Mathias is the godfather of Mr. Brewster's son Daniel Jr., Gerry Brewster said.

The two candidates agreed on most of the issues, Mr. Panos said. "But Mac was regarded as more serious, and Danny's drinking background played against him in that campaign," Mr. Panos said. "By then, it was pretty common knowledge, and though Mac never exploited it in the campaign, his supporters were not averse to doing that."

Mr. Mathias said, "I think the leadership qualities he exhibited at St. Paul's and in the Marine Corps were very important in helping him overcome the struggles that came later in life.

"Dan was also remarkable for the fact that he never carried any bitterness or acrimony. It's an extraordinary quality, and he should be remembered for it."

In a 1980 interview with The Sun, Mr. Brewster said he had voted for Senator Mathias in 1974. His son Gerry later worked in Senator Mathias' office.

In 1969, shortly after leaving office, Mr. Brewster was accused in a federal indictment of accepting a campaign contribution from the Spiegel catalog company in exchange for voting for low postal rates.

The trial and subsequent appeals continued for six years. Ultimately, he pleaded no contest to accepting an unlawful gratuity without corrupt intent, Gerry Brewster said. He was fined $10,000 and retained his license to practice law.

Mr. Silver said Mr. Brewster was in politics for the right reasons, not for the money or power. The judge said he thinks the bribery scandal that engulfed Mr. Brewster was the result of staff members taking advantage of him, not corruption on his part.

"He had some very rough years where he hit rock bottom," said Gerry Brewster, a former state legislator. "To his credit, from being at absolute rock bottom, he rebuilt his life piece by piece. He confronted the demons of alcohol, sought treatment and recovered with help from others and went on to help others."

Mr. Brewster met Judy Lynn Aarsand while they were recovering at Hidden Brook, a Bel Air treatment facility. They married in 1976 and had three children at the 130-acre Windy Meadows Farm in Glyndon, formerly owned by his mother and, later, his sister.

Without political responsibilities, Mr. Brewster could carpool and attend his youngest daughters' school events.

"He no longer held public office, so he now had the time to hold his family close," Gerry Brewster said.

Several of his children and other relatives live on home sites partitioned from Windy Meadows, which Mr. Brewster farmed for more than 30 years. "I'm a working farmer, not a gentleman farmer," he said in a 1980 Sun Magazine profile.

He was a communicant and a member of the vestry at St. John's Episcopal Church in Glyndon.

He was an original director and former president of the Maryland State Fair in Timonium, helping incorporate the 125-year-old event in the 1950s.

He continued to farm and to volunteer despite having to overcome leukemia and large cell lymphoma about 20 years ago. Bladder cancer was diagnosed several years ago and spread to his liver, Gerry Brewster said.

As the former senator's health declined, the family sold the farm this year. He moved to a home in Owings Mills several weeks ago.

"The friends of his youth were the friends of his old age. They never left him," Mr. Mathias said.

"The glory of his life was that he was so popular and respected," Mr. Hoyer said. "And as a person who was brought so very low and nearly to death, he came back. He came back and made positive contributions to his community. He was a wonderful human being."

Mr. Brewster's body will be cremated, and his ashes will be buried in a private ceremony at St. Thomas Episcopal Church on St. Thomas Lane in Owings Mills. A memorial service will be held at the church at 2 p.m. Sept. 15.

Also surviving are two other sons, Daniel Baugh Brewster Jr. of New York City and Dana Franklin Brewster of Nashville, Tenn.; two daughters, Danielle Lynn Brewster Oster of Glyndon and Jennilie Beckham Brewster of Brooklyn, N.Y.; former stepson Kurt Aarsand of Owings Mills; stepson Michael de Havenon of New York City; a stepdaughter, Krista Aarsand Bedford of Glyndon; two brothers, Andre W. Brewster and Walter W. Brewster, both of Glyndon; a sister, Frances Cochran Smith of Upperco; four grandchildren; and two step-grandchildren. Another stepson, Andre de Havenon, died in 2002.

liz.kay@baltsun.com fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Andrew A. Green and Sun staff researcher Paul M. McCardell contributed to this article.

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