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Pinsky led sweeping education improvements through Maryland Senate. Then, he rushed to his dying wife’s side.

Sen. Paul Pinsky led legislation for a sweeping of public education through Maryland Senate. Then, he rushed to be with his wife, Joan Rothgeb, who died of cancer. Pinsky, D-Prince George, speaks in 2018 on the lawn of Government House in Annapolis.
Sen. Paul Pinsky led legislation for a sweeping of public education through Maryland Senate. Then, he rushed to be with his wife, Joan Rothgeb, who died of cancer. Pinsky, D-Prince George, speaks in 2018 on the lawn of Government House in Annapolis.

Just before midnight Monday, Maryland’s senators rose in unanimous applause of Sen. Paul Pinsky. After three years of work, the Prince George’s County Democrat had shepherded through the chamber a sweeping legislative achievement ― the passage of the Kirwan Commission reforms of public schools.

But as Pinsky stood to speak after the vote, his voice filled with sorrow. Pinsky told his colleagues he had to rush home to be with his wife, Joan Rothgeb, who was in the “very late stages” of a battle with cancer.

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Pinksy and Rothgeb ― the retired director of special education for Prince George’s County schools ― were activists together earlier in life. A photo taken in the 1980s at a national labor demonstration shows the couple side by side, with Pinsky holding a bullhorn.

Later in life, Rothgeb became an avid triathlete.

But last year, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The family tried everything to help her get better. Chemotherapy. Radiation. Surgery. No treatment was successful.

In January, she decided she would stop treatment and spend her final days on earth at home.

As Pinsky spoke, senators wiped tears from their eyes.

“It has been hard,” Pinsky said, before invoking the Latin phrase used for the end of session. “This will be my ‘Sine Die.’” He then left the chamber to be at his wife’s side.

On Tuesday, when the Senate reconvened, Senate President Bill Ferguson had solemn news. Ferguson had spoken to Pinsky that morning: Rothgeb died at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“He was there,” Ferguson said. “He and his daughters were able to be there for that very, very challenging moment.”

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