Before he became Senate president, Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller and Sen. Verda Welcome, the first black woman elected to the chamber, served and co-sponsored legislation together.
Now, in a historic move, their portraits have been placed on the back wall of the 370-year-old institution.
“This is absolutely amazing,” said Mary Sue Welcome, Verda Welcome’s daughter, noting that the Senate was dominated by white men when her mother broke the color barrier in the 1960s. “When I was a little girl, I used to come to these chambers. I look around and the color is a lot different now.”
In his first official change to the Senate chamber, new President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, took down portraits of two old governors ― John Walter Smith and Edwin Warfield, who held office more than a century ago ― and replaced them with two history-makers from the modern era.
On Monday night, Ferguson unveiled in their new location the portraits of Welcome and Miller, who was the longest-serving Senate leader in the country before stepping back to an emeritus role this year while he fights cancer.
The portraits were previously displayed in the nearby James Senate Office Building.
Ferguson said he made the changes to provide a tribute to Miller for his years of service and, through Welcome’s portrait, an inspiration to young Baltimoreans who had written him letters after visiting the Senate.
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The portraits of Smith and Warfield will be displayed elsewhere, Ferguson said.
After taking over for Miller, who served as Senate president for 33 years, Ferguson joked that he keeps finding old items in desk drawers of his office, including a “60-minute workout routine” that once belonged to the Calvert County Democrat.
“I’m going to be here as long as I can, as long as my health will allow,” Miller told his colleagues, choking back tears. “Now the problem is: I’m going to have to be on my good behavior because I’m going to be looking down at me.”
Elected in 1962, Welcome was the first black woman in the country to be elected to a state senate. The Baltimore Democrat survived an assassination attempt in 1964. Miller noted that Welcome led the charge on smoking prohibitions, including a ban on smoking in elevators.
“I’m honored to share that back wall with her, Mr. President,” Miller said of Welcome, who died in 1990. “She was a tireless fighter."
Miller’s role in Maryland politics has been so impactful it’s hard to fully describe, Ferguson said. But he was able to arrange a surprise for the political veteran: The attendance of many of his family members in the first row of the Senate to watch the portrait’s unveiling.
“This was so hard to get most of the family here and to tell them to be quiet and not say anything to Dad,” said Patti Miller, Mike’s wife. “It’s an honor for our family."