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I've been watching and reading all of the well-deserved accolades for former Baltimore Mayor Thomas “Tommy” D’Alesandro III, who died Sunday at 90. They laud his leadership, his political accomplishments, and his tremendous contributions to Baltimore. But there is another side to Tommy.

He was great guy.

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He was fun to be around, interesting, witty — just a joy to spend time with.

I only knew Tommy for the last 10 years or so. We were drawn together by our common love of horse racing initially at Ocean Downs but expanding to yearly trips with him, his wife Margie, my wife and me to Gulfstream Park in Florida. He loved going to the track, sitting with all his racetrack buddies, telling jokes and stories, and betting the ponies. I will forever remember his booming laugh at the track, where he was in seventh heaven with our track buddies.

Tommy loved a joke and didn't mind telling stories where he was the foil. One of my favorite’s was when he told of sitting next to Andrew Wyeth, the famous 20th century realist painter at a function in Chicago.

He introduced himself as the Major of Baltimore and asked Mr. Wyeth what he did for a living. “I’m a painter,” he replied. Tommy then said “isn't that kind of seasonal, can you make a living?” He would tell that story and say with a laugh. “What in the hell do I know about painting? I didn’t know the guy.”

In this Jan. 17, 2002 file photo, former Baltimore city Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro III, center, shares a laugh with state and city officials over the contents of a newly opened time capsule in Baltimore. D'Alesandro III, who died Sunday, was known to love a good joke.
In this Jan. 17, 2002 file photo, former Baltimore city Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro III, center, shares a laugh with state and city officials over the contents of a newly opened time capsule in Baltimore. D'Alesandro III, who died Sunday, was known to love a good joke. (GAIL BURTON/AP)

What Tommy didn’t like were mean jokes about other people or ones that degraded someone. He would cut those right off at the pass and chastise the person (usually gently) and say that’s not right. Tommy was a man's man but not afraid to speak out even with his cronies.

Tommy's energy even into his 80s was remarkable. I remember trying to keep up with him when we were walking through the crowd at Preakness. As we walked, I would hear people saying “That’s Young Tommy, the mayor.”

He was still the mayor to them 30 years later, not only the grandstand crowd at the Preakness, but everywhere we went in the city.

Every year at Christmastime Tommy hosted a luncheon at his favorite restaurant in Little Italy. The attendees were quite an eclectic group. There was a group of Tommy's contemporaries, guys he had grown up with and with whom Tommy had friendships for the last 80-plus years. Tommy's brother and sons were always there. The rest of the people were those Tommy had known and in most cases helped in their careers and vocations, and others who Tommy just enjoyed being with. There was a lot of laughing (maybe some good-natured bragging and exaggeration), and then Tommy would ask each person to talk a little bit about what they were doing. I got a look first-hand at how smoothly Tommy conducted a meeting in his prior life, but the most remarkable thing was that everyone in the room felt Tommy was interested and cared about them. Tommy bridged the gap between generations and class, and he did it in the most genuine and caring way.

Tommy was the first to say he lived a wonderful and fun life. As Baltimore royalty he had the opportunity to meet celebrities and world political figures. There was nothing better than to listen to Tommy talk about growing up in the ‘40s and ‘50s, stories about his brothers and sister, and about how his mom was the rock of the family. There were the practical jokes he and his buddies pulled, hilariously funny when told by Tommy.

He had a J. Edgar Hoover racetrack story, a John F. Kennedy story, a Joe DiMaggio at the Italian parade story, a movie actor Robert Taylor story. The list goes on and on. He was a fun, happy guy who made everyone else feel the same.

Over the next few weeks there will be a lot said about Tommy and his political career and legacy, deservedly so. But I will remember Tommy for is his kindness, his gentleness, his humanity and as a great and generous friend.

It was an honor and a privilege to know him and I and many, many other people will miss him terribly.

Bruce Quade bruce.quade@verizon.net is a former chairman of the Maryland Racing Commission.

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