When the elementary school in the historically African-American community of Parole in Annapolis was at risk of being closed, Rhonda Pindell Charles knew just who to push to save the school: Michael Erin Busch.
Pindell Charles wrote Busch, her state delegate, nearly daily in a quest to keep open the last historically black school operating in Anne Arundel County.
"Our community was disrespected and appalled at the possible closing of our beloved school," she said.
Nearly two years later, with Busch's help, Mills-Parole Elementary School not only was saved, but got a $3 million renovation. That solidified Busch's relationship with the neighborhood, said Pindell Charles, now a member of the Annapolis City Council.
"He was us," she said.
"Whether student, player, teacher, coach, mentor, delegate, husband, father, brother, parishioner, speaker, consensus builder, counselor or friend, Mike was a great believer in social justice and why we must even the playing field. Without a doubt, this is what Michael Erin Busch has meant to all of our communities," Pindell Charles told an overflow crowd that gathered Tuesday at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Annapolis for Busch's funeral.
Pindell Charles was among those who recalled the late House of Delegates speaker as a warm friend, a dedicated public servant and a loving father. Busch, 72, died April 7 after being hospitalized with pneumonia.
Mourners, including a who's-who of Maryland politics, listened to Scriptures reminding them of the seasons of life — "a time to mourn and a time to dance" — and the Christian belief that those who believe in God will be rewarded in heaven.
A reception at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium followed the funeral. His family planned a private burial ceremony.
Busch had served in the House since 1987 and was elected speaker in 2003, guiding the 141-member body. He championed funding for schools, access to health care and improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay. All the while, he mentored new politicians and diversified the House's leadership.
Busch had "an enduring interest that ordinary citizens had a shot," said D. Bruce Poole, who was elected as a delegate the same year as Busch and became a longtime friend.
When Busch was chairman of the Economic Matters Committee, which handles business regulations, he tried to help the wheels of commerce turn without rolling over the people, Poole said.
A Democrat in the mold of President John Kennedy, Busch carried the Irish Catholic social justice teachings with him to the State House, Poole said.
Busch held fast to beliefs about fairness, said Jay Schwartz, an Annapolis lobbyist and longtime friend.
Time and again, Schwartz said, Busch fought against those who sought to enrich themselves: preventing health insurer CareFirst from turning into a for-profit company, keeping racetrack owners from having a monopoly on slot machines, working to reform the University of Maryland Medical System board of directors after learning that some directors had no-bid contracts with the system.
"He couldn't stand that stuff," Schwartz said.
Anne Arundel County District Judge H. Richard Duden III met Busch when they worked at the county's recreation and parks department. Duden managed Busch's one and only unsuccessful campaign, for House of Delegates in 1982. Even as a novice candidate, Busch seemed to know everyone in town, and everyone took a liking to him, Duden said.
"For Mike, it was all about connecting with people," Duden said. "You've heard of the Intercounty Connector? Mike was the 23 Counties and City of Baltimore Connector."
Busch was relatable, Duden said, because he combined the "North County common-sense toughness" from growing up in Glen Burnie with the "measured urbanity of Annapolis" where he attended high school and later settled.
It was easy to get wrapped up in the stories Busch would tell — sometimes the same story, over and over — because he was a joy to be with, Duden said.
"You could literally bask in the pleasure of Mike's company," he said.
Busch's daughters, Erin and Megan, recalled their father as a loving dad who never missed their lacrosse games and who was immensely proud of their accomplishments.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Each Sunday, Busch would phone his daughters at college for a weekly chat. Although the women had caller ID on their cell phones, Erin Busch said her father invariably would greet them with: "This is your dad, Mike Busch."
"I was like, 'Dad, I know what your name is,'" Erin Busch said to laughter.
She described her father as, "my coach, my teacher, my best buddy."
As the funeral concluded, Erin, Megan and their mother, Cindy, locked arms and followed the casket out of the church. Gov. Larry Hogan presented the family with a Maryland flag that flew over the State House the day Busch died.
"Taps" was played and the church bells tolled, as mourners blinked away their tears in the bright spring sun.