Steven L. Kreseski, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s chief of staff who was considered a mentor to many Maryland Republicans, died Friday from hereditary lung disease. He was 58.
Both Ehrlich and current Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan visited Kreseski at the University of Maryland Medical Center, where he was being treated.
"I started in politics with Steve," Ehrlich said. "Steve and I would go door-to-door together. He loved politics, loved the game. He was a terrific person. We're really missing him."
A native of the Hamilton neighborhood in Baltimore, Kreseski attended St. Dominic School before getting a scholarship to McDonogh School in Owings Mills. He earned a bachelor's degree from Gettysburg College and a law degree from the University of Baltimore.
After law school, Kreseski became a clerk for Baltimore Judge J. Harold Grady, served as staff to the Maryland Senate committees on finance and budget and taxation, and worked for U.S. Senator Larry Pressler, a South Dakota Republican.
Kreseski was Ehrlich's chief of staff and legislative director during his eight-year congressional tenure from 1995 to 2003, and served three years with Ehrlich during his time as governor.
"He had a brain that never stopped," Ehrlich said. "He had a new idea every minute."
Most recently, Kreseski was the chief operating officer at The Livingston Group, a lobbying firm in Washington D.C., where he lived. There, he served as director of the energy, environment and natural resources practice area.
Ed McDonald, who is chief of staff at the Maryland Department of Transportation, said Kreseski was a mentor to him and "hundreds" of the state's GOP members.
"I wouldn't have my current job if it wasn't for Steve," he said. "Steve went out of his way to try to mentor people in their careers. Republicans in Maryland can be a rare breed. He was trying to grow the team every chance he got."
McDonald, who worked under Kreseski in the Ehrlich administration, called Kreseski a "workaholic."
"He was so outgoing and friendly," McDonald said. "He was committed to his work, and he was driven to succeed."
Sue Heller, Kreseski's younger sister who lives in Palm Beach, Fla. and his only surviving relative, looked after him in recent months as he struggled with lung disease. Heller said her brother was an avid biker, who rode more than 3,000 miles last year before he fell ill.
"He was a pretty extraordinary guy," she said. "He impacted a lot of people's lives. He always tried to make other people's lives better, throughout his career."
As children, Heller recalled when she was in first grade, her brother, who was in second grade, would look out for her.
"At school, he would come over every day and give me a kiss," she said. "He would come to make sure I was OK. Even as a child, he was a wise, old soul."
She said Kreseski started campaigning at nine years old for President Richard Nixon.
"He was really charismatic," Heller said. "Everybody just enjoyed him. He would treat everybody the same whether you were a prince or a pauper."
Heller said Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford credited Kreseski with helping him in his career.
"So many people told me that I owe my job to your brother," Heller said.
Chrys Kefalas, a Republican who's running to replace the retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski, credits Kreseski for his first break in politics, first as a Congressional intern to Ehrlich then as counsel to Gov. Ehrlich.
"He had a father's-like pride in the success of his friends and mentees," Kefalas said.
One of the last piece of advice he said he received from Kreseski: "Be impatient — life doesn't wait."
"In life you meet few people who really change your life," Kefalas said. "Steve changed mine, like he did for untold others who are so much better for him, for his example and his life."
Ehrlich described Kreseski as basically "his own employment center."
"People would ask him for mentorship advice, job help, job recommendations," the former governor said. "He touched a lot of people."
Every year, Ehrlich, a Gilman grad, and Kreseski would bet on the McDonogh-Gilman football game. In the hospital, Ehrlich asked his old friend to hang on so they could make one more bet this year.
"A Hamilton kid and an Arbutus kid, we knew where we came from and neither one of us ever forgot it," Ehrlich said. "People say, 'If you want a friend in politics, get a dog. Steve proved that was a lie."
A service is scheduled for Sept. 9 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Peter's on Capitol Hill.