Even into his 80s, Jacqueline Broadwater said her father, former Maryland state Sen. Tommie Broadwater, would receive phone calls and visits from people who sought his advice and counseling when contemplating whether to run for elected office.
“He was well-known. He was there for everybody. He gave everybody advice, especially those running for office. They called him the godfather. He loved people,” she said during a brief phone interview at her father’s mansion in Upper Marlboro.
Jacqueline Broadwater confirmed her father died Tuesday at 3:17 p.m. He turned 81 on June 9.
She said Tuesday evening she didn’t know the exact cause of his death.
Born in Washington D.C. on June 9, 1942, Broadwater was one of 10 children. He attended Prince George’s County public schools and Southeastern University in Washington, D.C., though he dropped out to sell insurance. Broadwater ultimately rose from a childhood of poverty to wealth. He married his wife, Lillian, as a teenager and the couple had four children.
Broadwater’s political career started when he was elected to the Glenarden Town Council in 1968. In 1970, he was elected to the county’s Democratic Central Committee.
Broadwater first served in the Senate in 1974 and became the first Black lawmaker from Prince George’s elected to that chamber, at a time when the county was still predominately white. He was also the first Black senator elected outside of the city of Baltimore.
Although Broadwater hadn’t held elected office since 1983 after a federal food stamp fraud conviction and lost subsequent attempts to seek public office, he maintained businesses in the county and was sought after for his political counsel.
He offered advice to dozens of Black politicians, including former Rep. Albert Wynn (D) and the late County Executive Wayne K. Curry, whom he once babysat as a younger man. For years, he offered support for others, including Bowie Mayor Tim Adams when he announced his run for state Senate in 2017.
One beneficiary of Broadwater’s advice was former Prince George’s County Board of Education Member Belinda Queen, who sent out a mass email Tuesday evening with a picture of her and Broadwater. Part of it states: “The Godfather of Prince George’s: Gone but never forgotten.”
“He would talk to you about politics. He told you what you should do and what you shouldn’t do. He told people when they should run and when they shouldn’t run. He told them the truth,” Queen said. “Tommie Broadwater will be missed. There was no other godfather like him.”
In a collection of comments maintained by the Society of Senates Past, Broadwater reflected on his own political career: “As the first black senator elected outside of Baltimore … I served as a trailblazer and pioneer, and in doing so, carved a path of opportunity for other black hopefuls to enter the political arena as candidates in the process; and I led the fight to galvanize the black and white communities toward working together in order to reach common goals and objectives for their respective communities and in politics as well.”
Queen recalled that during Broadwater’s work as a bail bondsman, he would feed people ribs or chicken from his Ebony Inn — a bar, exotic dancing venue and carryout barbecue joint — in Fairmount Heights.
During his time in the legislature between 1974 to 1983, Broadwater also brought ribs to Senate committee hearings, guaranteeing attendance of his Budget and Taxation colleagues.
In recent weeks, county dignitaries have gathered at events to celebrate Broadwater’s career: at the Glenarden Municipal Center in May and at Bowie State University last month.
“It was about 300 people there for him in Glenarden. Then had a big at Bowie State. They gave him plaques and all this other stuff,” Jacqueline Broadwater said.
Several social media tributes paid homage to Broadwater late Tuesday.
“Fairmont Heights High School bids farewell to our esteemed alum, Tommie Broadwater, a distinguished member of the Class of 1961,” Fairmount Heights alum Mario Williams wrote on Facebook. “Fairmount Heights High School mourns the loss of a remarkable individual who will forever be remembered for his contributions and compassion.”
“We lost a big giant…in our community today,” community activist and entrepreneur LaTasha Ward said on her Facebook page. “Thank God for the opportunity I had to sit and be in his company. He loved his community and he took care of his community!”
In recent years, Broadwater still made public appearances at various events such as the annual J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Somerset County on the Eastern Shore.
“I’m comfortable here,” Broadwater said in July 2018. “I come to see all my old friends, my new friends, people just starting in politics. I like the camaraderie.”
Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.