Hundreds of people, including top city and state officials, turned out Monday to remember longtime Baltimore Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr. at a funeral held at Morgan State University's Fine Arts Center.
During a four-hour ceremony, more than 20 speakers, including Rep. Elijah Cummings, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, paid tribute to the colorful politician known for his maverick streak and catchy slogans. Several made reference to his signature response when asked how he was doing —"Outstanding, but improving!" — and credited him with improving diversity at the courthouse.
He was praised for his bluntness, his commitment to improving the lives of African-Americans and his flamboyant style.
Judge Alfred Nance, chief judge of the Baltimore Circuit Court, said: "I suspect Frank is in heaven today still campaigning."
Conaway died in his sleep Feb. 15 at his Northwest Baltimore home in the Ashburton neighborhood at age 81. His funeral was attended by so many political leaders that Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young postponed Monday's scheduled State of the City address.
"Frank was a true warrior," Young said. "He's another soldier gone home."
The judges of the Baltimore Circuit Court are charged with selecting a replacement but have offered no details.
Conaway was the patriarch of a political dynasty. His wife, Mary Conaway, had been register of wills, a post now held by his daughter, Belinda Conaway. His son, Frank M. Conaway Jr. represents the 40th District in the Maryland House of Delegates.
The family called themselves the "four bears" — nicknamed "Papa Bear," "Mama Bear," "Honey Bear" and "Baby Bear," respectively.
"When I heard the news, I didn't cry," Frank Conaway Jr. said. "I was happy, because I have the memories."
Belinda Conaway said her father leaves behind a legacy of advocating for civil rights, hiring African-Americans to jobs that once went exclusively to whites.
"I didn't know if I'd be able to speak, because I feel like my heart is breaking," she said.
Born in Baltimore, Frank Conaway Sr. was a graduate of Frederick Douglass High School. After high school, he served in the Army, where he was a boxer. He earned a bachelor's degree at Morgan State University in 1960.
Conaway held many jobs over the years, including as a math teacher at Booker T. Washington Junior High School and as a top-selling agent at the Prudential Insurance Co. He was elected twice to the House of Delegates in the 1970s. He also ran for mayor twice, unsuccessfully.
He known for colorful campaign style, including wearing boxing gloves while saying he would "fight for you." During the last mayoral campaign, he performed a comical rap, taking swipes at Rawlings-Blake.
"As I sat here, I was trying to figure out one thing we agreed on," Rawlings-Blake said at the service. "But we know that agreement is not what creates community. ... He loved his community."
From 1998 to this year, Conaway was clerk of the Baltimore Circuit Court, but he often saw himself as an outsider in the Democratic Party. Only months before he died, he switched affiliations to become a Republican.
Former state Sen. Larry Young, who hosts a radio call-in show on WOLB, noted that Conaway also hosted one of the most popular shows on the station.
Young praised Conaway's work as a delegate. "It was a not a Legislative Black Caucus where black was emphasized until Frank Conaway became its chairman," he said.
Cummings called Conaway a "giant" of Baltimore politics.
"What do you say about a giant?" he asked. "What you saw was what you got, whether you liked it or not. ... The thing I loved about him so much is he was authentic."
Attorney A. Dwight Pettit said he called Conaway the "Clerk of the World" because of how widely he was loved.
Pettit compared Conaway to the boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who used to boast that he was a "bad" man.
Pointing toward the casket, Pettit said: "Here lies a bad man."
In addition to his wife, son and daughter, survivors include another daughter, Monica, and three sisters.