Harry Roe Hughes was given one last send-off Thursday afternoon in the handsome and sturdy but not ostentatious St. Anne’s Parish in downtown Annapolis – a fitting metaphor for the man himself.
Hughes, Maryland’s 57th governor, who also served as a delegate, state senator and state Transportation secretary, died on March 13 at the age of 92.
But U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), one of the men chosen to eulogize Hughes, said the ex-governor’s titles were incidental to the man and his legacy.
“He was not our delegate, or our senator, or our secretary, or our governor,” observed Hoyer, who served with Hughes in the state Senate and later was on an opposing gubernatorial ticket. “He was just our Harry – and that was more than enough.”
Dozens of dignitaries filled the pews of the church just across the street from Government House, the governor’s mansion, where Hughes resided between 1979 and 1987. The crowd included three governors – the current occupant of the office, Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), and former Govs. Martin J. O’Malley (D) and Parris N. Glendening (D) – as well as U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), U.S. Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.), Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), legislators and local officials. O’Malley was in the company of his wife, Baltimore City Circuit Judge Katherine Curran O’Malley, and her father, former state attorney general J. Joseph Curran (D).
But it wasn’t just bold-faced names in the pews; many in the audience were those lower profile but stalwart state government officials of the past few decades that Hughes touched, people like Yale Stenzler, Linda Lamone, John Moag, John Griffin, Andrea M. Leahy (now a Court of Special Appeals judge) and Susan O’Brien, among many others.
“Today is the day to celebrate humility, a trait so often lost in today’s society,” said the Rev. C. Allen Spicer, the former director of Christ Episcopal Church in Hughes’ hometown, Denton, and knew Hughes for decades.
“Harry was a very ethical person,” Spicer said. “Harry didn’t allow power to corrupt him.”
Hughes in fact was elected governor in 1978 in part because Maryland’s top echelons of power had been wracked by corruption scandals. Hughes, Spicer said, “was the one who restored trust in state government.”
Hogan, who also spoke, said Hughes “was – quite simply – exactly the governor Maryland needed, at the time that our state desperately needed him the most.”
He called him “a friend and mentor…who taught me the importance of governing with courage, principle and a quiet conscience. It was from him that I learned to drown out the divisive politics and to focus instead on the future and well-being of this state and its people.”
Hoyer said Hughes is responsible for the state’s progressive tax code and for its leaders’ devotion to the Chesapeake Bay. Hughes, he said, sought and won commitments from regional and national officials to clean up the bay.
“The water just got better and better, and I think Gov. Hughes was the turnaround,” said Rob Etgen, president of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy.
The program was mixed with prayers, songs and readings of scripture – followed by a reception at Government House across the street, where Hughes once lived and where his late wife Patricia’s portrait hangs at the top of the stairs. He will be buried next to his wife alongside the Choptank River.