The word "mensch" is often misused, and over-used, in social settings. But the Yiddish term, which means "a person of integrity" and more colloquially "a good guy," is the very best way to describe the late Edgar P. Silver — judge, confidant to elected leaders and the most helpful person to grace Maryland's political and judicial arenas for well over half a century.
Silver, who died Tuesday at 91, believed in doing good deeds, large and small. He lived to assist others, to help them when fortune turned against them, to make a phone call that solved a vexing problem, to offer sage advice and guidance, to make a difference in their careers or in their personal situations.
To this day, lawyers recall watching Silver dispense justice in his Baltimore courtroom with acute sensitivity to the feelings of downtrodden defendants. He treated them with utmost courtesy, respect and kindness. He became the role model for countless judges.
He was always that way — caring about the feelings and welfare of others. Growing up, he became the "go to guy" in his Druid Hill Park neighborhood. Edgar was the one who would run an errand or offer assistance. No wonder when he ran for elective office — on a shoestring and without help from the political machine — Silver won easily.
Among those he defeated for the House of Delegates in 1954 was a youthful William Donald Schaefer. Silver then introduced the losing candidate to a budding power broker, Irvin Kovens, who proved instrumental in Schaefer's future rise to mayor and governor.
Actually, Schaefer didn't want to campaign for governor in 1986 — until Silver reminded him of the difficulties he'd have as mayor dealing with the likely winner, then Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs. Schaefer quickly changed his mind.
Alan Rifkin, whose law firm got off the ground thanks to Silver's participation as a partner and "of counsel," recalls first meeting Silver when Schaefer asked him to hand-deliver campaign materials to "the Judge." "What judge?" Rifkin asked. Schaefer replied, with eyebrows raised, "There is only one Judge."
That's how his friends knew Silver as he continued, decade after decade, to do favors for people in need. He became the backstage consigliere to dozens and dozens of politicians — friendly advice and wise guidance without any strings attached. His walls were filled with autographed photos of mayors, governors, senators and congressmen.
African American politicians thought of Silver as a guardian angel. No one did more — quietly and behind the scenes — to get black lawyers appointed to the judiciary. Once again, he gained the reputation as the "go to man."
People trusted Edgar Silver. They knew he had their best interests in mind. He wanted them to succeed. He'd do what he could to give them a boost.
Silver had an intuitive feel for people, especially politicians. He could tell a phony a mile away. He knew how to bridge differences, to find common ground without resorting to bitterness or anger.
He was Maryland's Happy Warrior. "The best is yet to come," Silver would tell one and all. His sunny disposition never dimmed. Laugh a lot each day, he'd say. And eat a banana. Those were Judge Silver's recipe for a long life.
"Sui generis" is how one old-time politician described Silver — one of a kind. He never lost his ability to communicate his wealth of knowledge about politics and about life to others.
The Judge became a Maryland institution without clamoring for public recognition. He just wanted to do good. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.