Ted Venetoulis, the former Baltimore County executive and political leader who died three weeks ago, was remembered by a celebrated cast of eulogizers Monday as an energetic and optimistic booster of Baltimore who worked on his pet civic projects until days before taking his last breath at the age of 87.
“Ted always loved an audience, so he’d be pleased by the turnout today,” Konstantinos “Daki” Venetoulis, the eldest of Venetoulis’ three children, observed as he looked out at the dozens of political celebrities who came to an auditorium at Goucher College to celebrate his father’s life.
Venetoulis’ time as an elected official was short: He served as Baltimore County executive from just 1974 to 1978, losing a bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1978. But he had a lifelong impact on the body politic, from his time as a young political operative and admirer of JFK, to his career as a newspaper and magazine publisher, to his role as a decades-long friend and political adviser to the late Baltimore Mayor Thomas L.J. D’Alesandro III (D) and his more famous sister, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“What is the word you think of for a person?” Pelosi said at Monday’s memorial. “When I think of Ted, I think ‘friend.'”
Pelosi recalled meeting Venetoulis when she was in high school. She knew his brother Nick, she said, who brought Ted to her house in Baltimore’s Little Italy, for an illicit teenaged party when her parents were out of town, “where, I think, there was some consumption of alcohol.” Soon after, she said, Venetoulis invited a group of friends to watch him play basketball at Towson State University, where “he wasn’t the tallest guy in the game, but he was the gutsiest.”
Pelosi said Venetoulis and her brother enjoyed “a beautiful friendship,” and observed that they had the same attitude about the campaigns they waged and worked on together. They always emphasized paying attention to and listening to campaign volunteers, she said. “Now they’re together, in heaven, where their friendship continues.”
Venetoulis frequently hosted fundraisers for Pelosi and U.S. House Democrats at his Lutherville home. Remarking on the turnout at one fundraising event for Pelosi, former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D) recalled Venetoulis saying, “I didn’t make a single phone call” to build the crowd.
“You better not tell the speaker that,” O’Malley remembered replying.
Stewart Bainum, the former state senator who relied on Venetoulis’ counsel as he tried unsuccessfully to buy The Baltimore Sun and its parent company, the Tribune Co., said Venetoulis “had an exhaustive Rolodex of everyone I needed to know.”
“Ted wasn’t just a person you wanted on your team — he was a team unto himself,” Bainum said. “He was a hundred people rolled into one man.”
Bainum said he hopes to honor Venetoulis and his commitment to Baltimore — and to journalism — by launching a news website soon.
Pelosi said that in one of her last conversations with Venetoulis, he was urging her to support the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, a measure that would provide tax credits to local news operations. She said it’s possible that some provisions of the bill will wind up in President Biden’s “Build Back Better” package that’s currently being debated on Capitol Hill.
O’Malley compared Venetoulis to other famous Greeks, like Aristotle and Homer, and said that whenever he got behind a cause, his role was “organizing, cajoling, cheering, persuading, polishing.”
But the most unusual glimpse of Venetoulis came from his widow, Lynn Morrison Venetoulis, who described his “man crushes” on tennis star Roger Federer, NBA star Steph Curry (like Venetoulis, short and gutsy), and singer Justin Timberlake.
“There were times when I thought maybe I was married to a teenaged girl,” she joked.
Lynn Venetoulis said her husband was especially fond of the Timerlake hit “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” an optimistic tune whose video shows dozens of people happy at their workplaces.
“Ted was the happiest, most optimistic person I ever met,” she said.
The memorial then ended with a short video of a smiling Venetoulis listening to the song, followed by a playing of the Timberlake video itself. The audience danced its way out of the auditorium.