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Harry Hughes remembered as humble and honest, 'exactly the governor Maryland needed'

Harry Hughes remembered as humble and honest, 'exactly the governor Maryland needed'
Maryland State Police officers carry the casket of former Gov. Harry Hughes out of St. Anne's Episcopal Church to the awaiting hearse after the Thursday funeral service. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

At the outset of former Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes’ funeral Thursday, Gov. Larry Hogan and Congressman Steny Hoyer described Hughes as a man of humility and integrity who was exactly what the state needed to stop corruption.

But perhaps the most emotional words in the service came toward the end, in the soprano tones of Morgan State University choir member Alexandria Crichlow-Bradshaw.

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“If I can help somebody, as I travel along,

“If I can help somebody, with a word or song,

“If I can help somebody, from doing wrong,

“No, my living shall not be in vain,” she sang.

About 200 mourners gathered at St. Anne’s Parish in Annapolis to remember Hughes, who died March 13 at age 92. The Democrat from Caroline County served in the state House of Delegates and Senate before he was elected to two terms as governor in 1978 and 1982.

He entered a Government House that had been rocked by successive corruption scandals involving former Govs. Spiro T. Agnew and Marvin Mandel, after a campaign in which Hoyer said The Baltimore Sun called him “the class of the field” and “a rare combination of integrity, experience and compassion.”

Hogan said Hughes was elected to restore integrity to Annapolis, and “that’s exactly what he did do.”

Hogan noted that Hughes ran for governor only after resigning from his post as the state’s first transportation secretary to protest what he saw as an unethical decision by the Board of Public Works.

“He was, quite simply, exactly the governor Maryland needed,” Hogan said.

And then he left the state better than he found it, said the Rev. C. Allen Spicer, who met Hughes while serving as rector of Christ Episcopal Church in his hometown of Denton.

“He touched our lives, and we are the better for it,” Spicer said. “Maryland is better for it.”

The service brought together many past and current state leaders. Across the aisle from Hughes’ daughters Ann Fink and Elizabeth Hughes and their families, the first few rows were filled with dignitaries: Hogan and his wife, Yumi; Hoyer; Lt. Gov Boyd Rutherford; Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. John Sarbanes; Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp; former Gov. Parris Glendening and former first lady Kendel Ehrlich; former Gov. Martin O’Malley, his wife Katherine Curran O’Malley, a Baltimore City District Court judge; and her father, former Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

While state lawmakers face busy schedules with less than three weeks remaining in the year’s 90-day General Assembly session, a handful came to pay respects, including Sens. Cheryl Kagan, Adelaide Eckardt and James Rosapepe and Del. Sandy Rosenberg. Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. also came.

And leaders of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, which Hughes is credited with launching in earnest, also attended, including Donald Boesch, longtime president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission.

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Speakers repeatedly praised Hughes’ commitment to the bay, which helped launch multistate and federal efforts that have reduced pollution significantly over the past three decades.

Rob Etgen, president of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, joined Hogan and Hoyer in eulogizing Hughes. He recounted how, more than a decade after leaving public office, Hughes played an instrumental role in the creation of what is now known as the Rural Legacy Program to preserve large parcels of undeveloped and agricultural land.

“That was just how Harry was,” Etgen said. “It was all about bringing people together.”

Hogan, a Republican, called Hughes a mentor — “we both share the history of attaining a governorship that many did not predict,” he joked — and said the former governor taught him “to drown out the divisive politics and to focus instead on the future and well-being of this state and its people.”

Besides Hughes’ accomplishments as governor, he was also remembered as a humble and devoted person.

Hoyer said he wore wore a blazer, gray slacks and a striped tie Thursday, instead of a dark suit and tie, to match what became known as Hughes’ classy yet approachable wardrobe — and demeanor. He noted that while Hughes’ public life ended with a failed bid for U.S. Senate in 1986, he never stopped “advocating for our state and its people.”

At the same time, Spicer said, Hughes was devoted to caring for his wife of 60 years, the former Patricia Donoho, who died of Parkinson’s disease in 2010.

“He literally dedicated his life to her. She was his first priority,” Spicer said. “What a wonderful example of dedicated love.”

And Etgen, who said he didn’t get to know Hughes until after his days in state government, remembered how unassuming the former governor remained.

As many times as Hughes told the same joke, Etgen said, he always drew laughter.

Years after his political life had ended, he’d say, a woman once stopped him to ask, “Didn’t you used to be Harry Hughes?”

His response: “Still am.”

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