Louis Goldstein's lessons of leadership

"How can a man who collects taxes," Gov. William Donald Schaefer asked at Louis L. Goldstein's 81sth birthday party in 1994, "be so popular?" That is perhaps the greatest achievement of this great Marylander, who was born 100 years ago, and who died 15 years ago tomorrow, on July 3, 1998. In our own time of cynicism and distrust about politics, it's easy to overlook what this steady, tireless public servant achieved: He made good government popular.

Louis L. Goldstein was born in 1913 in Calvert County, son of a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe. He graduated from Washington College in Chestertown in 1935, earned a law degree from the University of Maryland, and began his political career in 1938 as a member of the House of Delegates.


For six decades, until his death in 1998, Louis "Louie" Goldstein held elective office in Maryland (except for the five years he spent in the Marines during and immediately after the Second World War). He served on Washington College's Board of Visitors and Governors for more than four decades, including 18 years as chairman of the board. When he died in 1998, Louie was running for an 11th consecutive term as Maryland's comptroller and ranked as the longest-serving elected official in the United States.

He was "Mr. Maryland": a beloved figure famous for attending tens of thousands of local events all over Maryland and a trademark greeting, "God bless y'all real good." But Louie was also a canny financier, a careful steward of public works, and a successful businessman. And above all he was an immensely talented politician who saw politics as a true calling. The secrets of Louis Goldstein's extraordinary success can be gleaned from the recollections of those who remember him.


Embrace politics. Rich Gillin, Ernest A. Howard Professor of English at Washington College, recalls a ceremony honoring Louie as the longest serving elected official in the United States. "I asked him, 'How does it feel to be an admired statesman?' He replied, 'I am not a statesman. Statesmen are dead. I'm a politician.'" After Goldstein died in 1998, Thomas V. Mike Miller, president of the state Senate, said, "He was an old breed of politician, who brought Republicans and Democrats together." He was someone, Mr. Miller added, "who believed that government service was public service. He believed it was a noble calling."

Louie loved to campaign. Once, stumping western Maryland for votes, he gave a speech to a few unresponsive people in a small town, only realizing later on that he had veered into West Virginia. In Chestertown, while enthusiastically working a crowd in a department store, he once shook hands with a mannequin. Former Sen. Paul Sarbanes, in remarks at his funeral, said, "They broke the mold after Louie. He was a man of warmth and enthusiasm who practiced the politics of joy, not the politics of hate." After his death, he was the first elected official to lie in state under the Rotunda of the state capitol in Annapolis.

It's about people. "He cared more about people than just about any politician I've ever interacted with," said Washington College Chief of Staff Joe Holt. On one stop at the college, he visited the site of the new fitness center and greeted half the construction workers by name: "Louie asked after their parents, aunts and relatives," Mr. Holt said. "I saw that time and time again in him, small kindnesses like that." Louie credited his father for his attention to people: "He taught me to be kind, be polite, remember people's name, remember their children and their backgrounds. I still do that the same way, give people responsibility, accountability and service. How can you beat that?"

Carry a spare pair of shoes and socks. Louie's legendary energy had a secret, according to Washington College Professor Terry Scout: "He always carried a spare pair of shoes and socks wherever he went. He always felt he could get another six hours out of himself if he changed his shoes and socks."

No flat roofs. As comptroller, Louie sat on the Board of Public Works, approving most state contracts and major capital projects. He gained a reputation for ferreting out waste and sniffing out bad design ideas. At Washington College, Reid Raudenbush, director of physical plant, still has vivid memories of Louie's long tenure on the Buildings and Grounds Committee: "He would sit back and look at Dr. [Lou] Stettler, vice president of finance, and me, and ask if our proposed structure was going to have a flat roof. 'I hate a building with a flat roof — nothing but trouble.' And once we assured him the roof wouldn't be flat, the meetings usually went well. Of course, when we were designing what would become Goldstein Hall, we told the architects that none of the roofs could be flat. None are."

Get home. Louie ended just about every day by returning home to his wife and three children. "I sleep better in my own bed than anywhere else," he would say. His marriage to Hazel may have been part of what helped Louie forge an identity beyond partisan labels: "I go to bed every night," he told a friend, "with a Republican."

Louis Goldstein taught generations of Marylanders that politics could be decent and even noble. He served six decades in elective office and managed the state's finances with prudence, diligence and never a whiff of scandal. In a lifetime of politics, he shook tens of thousands of hands, visited every corner of the state, and handed out innumerable plastic gold coins stamped with his trademark phrase, "God bless y'all real good." Louis, we miss you. God bless you real good.

Michael Harvey teaches leadership and business at Washington College in Chestertown. His email is