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Government & Politics

Thankful for Richard Cross

It has been almost two weeks since Richard J. Cross III, the former speechwriter and press aide to the late Rep. Helen Bentley (R-Md.) and former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R), was found dead in his Baltimore apartment.

It’s still hard to believe that this unique character — a wonderful writer, arch observer of life and culture, keen political strategist and valued friend to many people in and out of politics — is gone.

A memorial service will be held Sunday, Dec. 3, at the Lemmon Funeral Home of Dulaney Valley at 10 W. Padonia Road in Timonium. There will be a gathering and light refreshments served from 1 to 3 p.m., with the memorial set to begin at 3 p.m.

Maryland Matters invited Cross’ colleagues and friends to share their thoughts and memories. Excerpts of those remarks follow:

Political Provocateur

My friendship with Richard Cross began in 1995, when he drove me back and forth along the Baltimore/Washington Parkway to my college internship with then-congressman Bob Ehrlich. Richard was a student of history and politics, a gifted speechwriter and a political provocateur with a mischievous side.

Politics is a profession where acquaintances are many and alliances are fleeting. For me, Richard was the rare, true friend who never betrayed a secret and whose loyalty was endurable.

Richard was an old-school Republican who grew up in the age of Richard Nixon. As he got older, he struck out on an independent path. He showed courage in expressing his opinions. He lost friends because of it, but he gained respect.

Maryland has a very small political universe. Toward the end of his life, he assembled breakfasts of politicians, pollsters and journalists where conversations flowed freely.

During a time when partisans are arrayed like armies, he brought people together. His death leaves a terrible void.

–Baltimore County Councilman David Marks (R)

Spot-On Political Insight

Richard was difficult and ornery, obsessive and damaged in some areas, and willing to lash out when he perceived a slight, intentioned or not. He was the King of Grudge-holders and proud of it. He was dramatic. He called people names behind their backs (cruel but funny names) — even the people he claimed to love. He was not an easy friend to have, but he was worth it.

But all of this, sadly, and my reaction to it, caused a rift in our friendship in recent years.

He was also hilariously funny and quick-witted, fiercely loyal, generous to a fault, a loving son and brother (he loved his sister, Gina Cross, deeply and wholly, and was always grateful for how much she looked like their mother). He was an entertaining dinner companion, a spontaneous road trip friend, and had incredibly spot-on political insight. He was willing to go to museums with me and others as long as he could stop at anything politics-related. He was an avid collector of political paraphernalia: everything from old campaign buttons to valuable letters signed by past presidents and other politicos. He read every single book my mother had about Nancy Reagan, even while making amazingly insulting but funny jokes about her and her psychics.

He loved Batman, especially The Dark Knight. He was a wonderful conversationalist one-on-one, but painfully, awkwardly shy in large groups of unknown people. Once I saw him sit down on a sofa at a fundraiser and curl up into a ball while he looked at Facebook to avoid people.

He was so good on the radio when he was interviewed for his political insights. He never faltered or got nervous. He was that rare Republican who championed women’s rights and longed for the days when the GOP stood for the Grand Old Party. His knowledge of politics made him a sought-after commentator and op-ed writer. He was able to make analogies of current legislative policies to policies from 50 years ago and discuss how their outcomes differed from what he expects will happen now. His ability to connect theoretical policy to the past and present was really impressive.

He also loved his cars. At one point he had a silver Porsche 911, a black Porsche Boxster (his favorite), an old Jeep — he called it Maria — that had belonged to his late mother, and a Mustang he kept at his sister’s home because he ran out of room.

He loved his women friends, but often drove them crazy with constant texting.

He was mischievous, and liked to think of himself mostly as a naughty schoolboy, but also a grown man who could take someone down like The Godfather.

He was also the little boy who sat behind me in kindergarten and drove the entire class insane with his questions for the teacher. He was probably bored and impatient, because his bright mind was already onto the next lesson as he was such a fast learner and had so much insight to share.

There’s a lot I could say about Richard Cross. Like all of us, he had many conflicting traits, both good and bad. Right now I’m remembering the many, many laughs we shared over a lifetime. I can’t believe he’s gone, and that sadness runs deep. I can’t believe our friendship will never come back.

One time Richard picked up my children from the airport. He took the responsibility very seriously, knew I was worried about them, arrived two hours early, and texted me to let me know he was at the gate. Within 10 minutes he was impatient, bored and looking for trouble. He found a wheelchair and spent two hours doing wheelies and learning tricks to impress the kids when they got off the plane. As they walked out of the jetway, he came hurtling down the ramp doing wheelies and spins.

That’s the Richard I choose to remember. I will raise a Jack and Diet Coke to my old friend — a rascal, brat, enfant terrible and marshmallow heart. I hope that wherever you are, you are in the sweetest ride you can find, going as fast as you can, with a beautiful woman at your side.

–Donna Michael Emeott

Quirky? Yes, and So Fun to Work With

A bunch of us in Baltimore were responsible for the Fish Out of Water Project, a public art initiative placing festive fish sculptures around town more than 20 years ago.

Richard, at the time, was the public relations director at the Downtown Partnership and was charged with promoting the project.

I will always remember his creativity, diligence and sense of humor, coupled with the fact that he never wore shoes in the office. Seriously, he’d slip those penny loafers off, padding around in his brown socks to do his best work. Quirky? Yes, and so fun to work with.

–Mary Sue McCarthy

Favorite Troublemaker and Pot-Stirrer

It’s really hard to put into writing my cherished memories of Richard, because I’m still in shock, even though I can’t say I was surprised. As Richard and I always agreed: expect the unexpected.

Everyone who knows Richard well knew he was a complex person. But he left his mark on everyone. And I’m not talking about the surface things, like how every time I see a Lady Gaga or Richard Nixon reference, I will always think of him. And “ANT” and “TH” (that’s hot) are expressions that his friends will never forget.

My relationship with him was deeper than that, and began a number of years ago when he crossed from political colleague to friend. I don’t remember when and how I met “RJC” years ago, but in recent years, he often reminded me how he remembered my visits to him at Congressman Bob Ehrlich’s office in D.C. I left Maryland in 1998 but after I returned to Baltimore in 2010 we reconnected.

Beyond meeting with the WTF clan, Richard and I would also meet privately, not only at his usual watering hole of Red Star but in other Fells Point bars as well, where we would plot together. He was a partner in crime, and we shared information and strategized how to best use it.

He and I often would theorize anticipated changes in the political arena, who would run for office, and who we should recruit or what we should try to make happen. It’s going to be hard going through 2018 without him. I was looking forward to many fun meetings, plottings, leaking info and strategizing. And yes, fun is not a word many would associate with Richard, but we always had fun when we met up.

I remember driving from Pikesville to Fells Point a few years back to pick him up to drive to the Timonium ’80s birthday party of Jessica “Feisty” Fugate, because he didn’t want to drive but we wanted him to be there. While others thought chauffeuring him or schlepping down to Red Star was a chore, I viewed it as a pleasant time hanging out with a friend. Plus it always got me extra inside political scoop!

Richard had his up and down moods, and I won’t deny being at the brunt end of it sometimes. But even after a small respite in our friendship when he thought I leaked something to the press about a lobbyist friend of his, he was man enough and valued our friendship enough to later apologize and rebuild the friendship when he learned that I had been telling the truth.

He was one of my favorite troublemakers and pot-stirrers, second to none with his brilliant insights; a favorite master wordsmith of mine. Like some of his other colleagues, I often received his columns and articles in advance, when he genuinely sought out valued opinions, and we always had engaging and honest discussions about his views and writings. Despite his great sensitivities on a personal level, professionally he was confident in his work but always willing to hear constructive criticism. And he knew I would be honest with him.

In the past two years, Richard would reach out to talk about his latest crushes … and I loved the refreshing glimpses I got of enthusiasm, hope and optimism he usually buried deep down. That is the Richard Cross I am going to remember, right alongside his snarky-ness and sharp wit that I loved.

It’s been a tough year for some of us, first with the passing of Joe Steffen and now with the loss of Richard. Neither should have been a great surprise to any of us, but they are devastating nonetheless. I am sad that my last two plans to meet Richard in September both fell through last minute; a hurricane canceled his birthday party in September after some out-of-town friends couldn’t make it. And he was supposed to join me at a baseball game skybox in September but I didn’t have my cellphone on and he was locked outside and couldn’t reach me. He verbalized on both occasions how much he regretted those missed opportunities, and we talked about meeting up on my recent November trip to Baltimore. Unfortunately, right after I arrived in town, he was gone.

I know those canceled meetings were harder on him than on me; he treasured meeting with his friends. If I had one last time to say something to Richard, it would be this: Richard, I am sorry that we didn’t meet up as planned. So, so sorry. But before that and after that, you know I would do nothing to hurt you. I know you had your demons, and there was nothing more I could have done as your friend or to be your friend. I know you had your struggles, and you knew I — and the rest of your friends — were there for you. You were ready to go, but we aren’t ready for you to be gone. We miss you and will never forget you.

P.S.: I know you saved every single email and every text. There are many that could cause political havoc and damage. I hope you hit the delete button before you parted from us or you took them with you!

–Chevy Weiss

Editor’s note: If other readers wish to write tributes to Richard, it’s not too late! We will publish them in subsequent editions. You can send them to [email protected]


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Thankful for Richard Cross