‘He was a man who loved life and had sunshine in his pocket’: Former Baltimore County Executive Ted Venetoulis memorialized

Theodore “Ted” Venetoulis was a political strategist, a government reformer, a Baltimore booster and a supporter of the free press in America.

But Venetoulis also was a devoted father, an eternal optimist and a youthful spirit, according to those who knew him best and honored his 87 years of life during a memorial service at Goucher College on Monday. He died Oct. 6 after a brief illness.


Venetoulis’ most important official role was the four years he spent as Baltimore County executive from 1974 to 1978, leading the county out of the dark days of corruption by holding town hall meetings and opening up government to public scrutiny.

After four years as county executive, he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor in 1978. Despite that loss, he was undaunted and forged ahead with a career in media and supporting civic causes.


Ted Venetoulis was “a Baltimore guy,” said Martin O’Malley, a former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor who relied on Venetoulis’ political counsel.

“I knew by that, he meant ‘Baltimore’ in the largest, bravest and most inclusive and farseeing sense of the word,” said O’Malley, a fellow Democrat.

The son of Greek immigrants who was raised in Baltimore’s Greektown, Venetoulis was the first in his family to go to college, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees. He served domestically in the U.S. Army and launched a career working for politicians and managing campaigns before running himself on an “anti-machine” platform.

Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi, a longtime friend from her days growing up in Baltimore, said Venetoulis always respected the campaign volunteers and staff who worked for him.

“If they were going to do work, they were going to have a say,” said Pelosi, a Democrat. “And that’s what Ted was about: openness, accountability and listening.”

Pelosi recalled how Venetoulis and her brother, Tommy D’Alesandro, worked together to score a surprise victory for Jerry Brown over Jimmy Carter in the 1976 Democratic presidential primary in Maryland.

“Ted’s brilliance was well known, as well as his kindness, warmth and leadership,” she said.

In his “working retirement” in recent years, Venetoulis had been focused on journalism — trying to start his own nonprofit news organization, then working to find a local buyer for The Baltimore Sun and then, in the past few months, advising businessman Stewart Bainum Jr.’s effort to launch an online news site, the Baltimore Banner.

Former Gov. Martin O’Malley signs the guest book for the Celebration of the Life of Ted Venetoulis outside Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College.

Pelosi said her last call from Venetoulis was urging her to support a bill in Congress, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which would give incentives to news organizations.

Bainum said that while he first met Venetoulis during that 1976 campaign — Bainum was preparing to run for the General Assembly a couple of years later — it took 45 years until they became close friends and associates, working on Bainum’s journalism efforts.

“Ted wasn’t just a person you wanted on your team, he was a team unto himself,” Bainum said to chuckles from the audience at Goucher’s Kraushaar Auditorium. “He was a prodigious talent powered by the charisma of a hundred men.”

The two men shared a belief that “robust journalism and a functioning democracy were inextricably linked.” Only through sharing stories of communities can we forge understanding and empathy, Bainum said.

And while the public may have known Venetoulis for his work in politics and media, he also was a loving, supportive parent who nurtured his three children’s interests, said Kostantinos “Daki” Venetoulis, his oldest son from his first marriage to Eleni Venetoulis.

When Daki Venetoulis proposed a semester abroad in Kenya, Ted Venetoulis didn’t blink: “If you’re willing to go for it, I’m willing to back you up.”


Venetoulis died of an infection after a brief illness, said his widow, Lynn Morrison Venetoulis. They had just learned that he also had pancreatic cancer, and she said there was some measure of blessing in knowing he did not have to suffer death from a cancer that is often swift and brutal.

Lynn Venetoulis said that while her husband was a smart man and skilled politician, he also could be silly. She and their daughter Thalia “Teddie” Venetoulis teased him relentlessly. Teddie, a student at New York University, had assigned roles in the household: Lynn as president, herself as vice president and Venetoulis “was somewhere below the dogs in the hierarchy.”

Venetoulis always seemed to get a kick out of the teasing, and Lynn played a video clip of him laughing so hard he could barely speak, rubbing his face and shaking his head.

And a bit surprisingly, Ted Venetoulis was a fan of the singer Justin Timberlake, particularly his song “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”

The bouncy pop tune features a line about “Sunshine in my pocket,” and that’s what Venetoulis always called the song, even though that wasn’t the title.

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“He was a man who loved life and had sunshine in his pocket,” Lynn Venetoulis said.


Then, on a giant screen over the stage, a video played of Venetoulis at home, watching the song on his tablet, wiggling his shoulders and singing along.

I got that sunshine in my pocket

Got that good soul in my feet

I feel that hot blood in my body when it drops, oh

The video of Venetoulis dancing gave way to Timberlake’s music video.

And the whole crowd — friends, family, politicians and the Speaker of the House — got to their feet, swayed their hips and clapped to the beat.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gives the eulogy for Theodore G. "Ted" Venetoulis in Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College.