Keith Haller, the veteran Maryland political strategist, pollster and communications guru, was remembered Tuesday as “a force of nature” who made his community a better place – and challenged his friends to strive for greatness.
Haller, a co-founder of Maryland Matters who died of cancer last week at age 70, was eulogized at a funeral service in Bethesda and buried on a hillside at Parklawn Memorial Park in Rockville, with bagpipes playing.
Haller spent a lifetime in politics and loved the political world – and the political world loved him right back Tuesday. Among those attending his funeral: former U.S. Reps. Michael Barnes (D) – his former boss – and Constance A. Morella (R), former Montgomery County executives Isiah Leggett (D) and Douglas M. Duncan (D), County Councilmen Gabriel Albornoz (D), Andrew Friedson (D) and Tom Hucker (D), state Sen. Susan Lee (D), former Council members Bruce Adams (D), Nancy Floreen (D) and Steve Silverman (D), former Del. Bill Bronrott (D), and dozens of other political players. U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D), former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) and former state Sen. Howard A. Denis (R) were among those paying their respects at a visitation the night before.
“This is the gathering of a joyful sorrow,” said Fr. Dimitrios J. Antokas, presiding priest at the St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bethesda, who conducted the service.
Three friends paid tribute.
Kevin Sullivan, who met Haller in the early 1970’s, joked that he would contribute to a charity dedicated to restoring forests in Haller’s honor, because Haller spent so much time making lists and sketching out strategic plans on yellow legal-sized paper.
“He was a man of great passions and emotion and integrity, and very strategic,” Sullivan said. “And he put it all on a yellow legal pad.”
Sullivan recalled that in his final weeks, Haller, a music lover with a rich bass voice, sang farewells to his friends whenever they visited.
“He sang his way to heaven and he sang his way into our hearts,” he said.
David Fleischaker, another friend of almost 50 years, recalled Haller’s penchant for grand ideas that made associates see possibilities they never imagined existed.
“He made you think you could do far more than you ever thought was possible,” Fleischaker said, adding, “I have a great deal of trouble believing that this man, who was such a force, is gone. But that’s what it is.”
Barnes, the former congressman whose political career Haller nurtured, and who talked to him every day about a wide range of topics, said, “Nobody had a better friend than Keith Haller.”
Haller is survived by his wife, Stacy, and his son, Michael. The Washington Post published an obituary on Haller late Tuesday.
On Jan. 12, a celebration of Haller’s life will take place at 10 a.m. at the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase – no small irony because the country club was a major opponent of the Purple Line light rail project, which Haller championed for years.
“Today, we mourn,” Barnes said. “In January, we will celebrate.”