Granville Warren “Sonny” Wehland, a retired Howard County highways chief and longtime active member of the Maryland Democratic Party, died of a stroke March 18 at Lighthouse Senior Living in Ellicott City. He was 83.
“Sonny Wehland served the citizens of Howard County with distinction. His work was critical in the early days of Columbia, as Howard County evolved to charter government and the creation of a new planned city in its midst,” said former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.
“Sonny exemplified the enlightened public servant and citizen as he fought for equality of all of our citizens,” said Mr. Ulman. “Sonny was a friend to me, and someone I looked to for guidance and advice during my service to the people of Howard County.”
Born on a farm at what is now Columbia, he was the son of Henry Wadsworth Wehland and his wife, Ellen Alberta Wehland.
In a memoir, he recalled growing up in a rural county and lighting kerosene heating stoves at Christ Episcopal Church in Guilford, where he was an acolyte. He was in the first graduating class of Howard High School and received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Baltimore.
He met his future wife, Mary Constance Colbert, at a meeting of the Howard County Young Democrats. When her car became stuck in a ditch, he helped her get home.
Mr. Wehland joined the county’s highway department and was later named its chief. He assisted in modernizing the county roads system. In the mid-1960s, as developer James W. Rouse was unveiling plans for Columbia, he drew up a road network for the new community.
In 1960, he became chair of Howard County Democrats for John F. Kennedy. He headed a team that coordinated a presidential campaign visit by Kennedy, then a U.S. senator.
Mr. Wehland rode with Kennedy during a campaign swing that included stops at Westview Shopping Center.
“My father recalled seeing anti-Catholic signs and watching Kennedy smile back at them, but curse under his breath,” said his son, Matthew Henry Colbert Wehland of Ellicott City.
Amanda Smith, Kennedy’s niece, recalled Mr. Wehland as “the hard-working chairman of the Howard County Kennedy for President Committee.” She said he accompanied Kennedy to “rallies, luncheons and meetings with local dignitaries throughout the state in the long days leading up to the May 1960 Democratic Primary.”
“Granville was an indispensable part not only of my uncle's primary win … but also of his eventual presidential victory,” she said.
After the senator won the presidency, Mr. Wheland and his future wife attended the inaugural ball.
Mr. Wehland was also an allay of Sen. James Clark Jr. and supported his political colleague’s anti-discrimination legislation that would allow African-Americans to enter public places in Maryland. In a 2008 article in The Baltimore Sun, Mr. Wehland recalled the presence of the Klu Klux Klan in Howard County and how its members intimidated black persons he knew.
“When Jimmy Clark wanted my help on a state public accommodations law, I went right along with him because we knew it was the right thing to do,” he said in the article.
The law ultimately passed.
Mr. Wehland remained active in local politics all his life.
He and his wife were past presidents of the Howard County Historical Society, and he lived in the historic district of Ellicott City in a 1904 home known as the “Crow’s Nest.”
Mr. Wehland was also a past president of the County Engineers Society of Maryland, and past chair of the Sons of the American Patriots Debutante Ball at the Belvedere Hotel.
He liked playing the piano, and enjoyed monthly breakfasts with the remaining members of his high school class. He also participated in Kindred Spirits, a program for those with Alzheimer’s disease.
A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 6395 Rogers Avenue in Ellicott City.
In addition to his son, survivors include his daughter, Mary Jeanne McCabe Wehland Coles of Union Bridge, and two grandchildren. His wife of 50 years died in 2016.