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Remembering Keith Haller’s indefatigable spirit

The late Keith Haller (right), with his close friends, former U.S. Rep. Michael Barnes (center) and former state Del. Bill Bronrott. Flickr photo.

I was in downtown Bethesda the other day for the first time in a while and noticed a bunch of building construction on Old Georgetown Road just west of Wisconsin Avenue. It was then that it struck me that all evidence of the old La Madeleine restaurant is now gone.

The place has been closed for a few years already, but it still felt like a gut punch. That’s where, in 2014, 2015 and part of 2016, Keith Haller and I — and later Keith, Lou Peck and I — met almost every Friday morning to discuss whether it would be feasible to launch a nonprofit news website focusing on Maryland government and politics.

I was weary most of those early mornings and definitely not at my best. We’d meet for perhaps 90 minutes before I would hop on Metro for my full-time job near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The meetings themselves were, by turns, exciting, maddening, nerve-racking, and frustrating. None of us really had any idea about how to make it all come together, particularly on the financial front, and the burdens of trying to launch the website frequently seemed like more than I could bear.

Keith’s enthusiasm for the project was unflagging, though, and he was a fount of suggestions. Many of them seemed unrealistic at the time, as I’ve written before. But I daresay that his enthusiasm is what kept me going on many days, and made me determined to find a way to put at least some of Keith’s ideas for fundraising, public outreach, and news coverage into practice.

And here we are, just a few months away from celebrating Maryland Matters’ seventh anniversary.

Today, we mark another significant anniversary and a considerably sadder one for Maryland Matters: Our co-founder Keith Haller died on Dec. 11, 2018, at the age of 70, from an aggressive form of prostate cancer.

When he died, I wrote at length about his many contributions to the creation of Maryland Matters, as well as his status as a thought leader, political strategist, and marketing genius in the community. And I have tried to keep the tradition going every year around the anniversary of his passing. (Keith was also, it should never be forgotten, a devoted family man, a sports nut, and a lover of the arts.)

So much has happened in our world and in our state — and yes, at Maryland Matters — in these past five years, and I miss talking about all of them with Keith. He was a realist, but also an indefatigable optimist, and we could certainly use more of that spirit these days.

Keith was all about making connections for the common good. A friend of a friend was his friend, and if that friend could help another friend or a worthy cause, so much the better.

At our very first meeting about the news website idea, at La Madeleine, Keith brought a yellow legal pad with the names of dozens of wealthy and prominent Maryland personages, along with projections of how much they might be willing to donate to the venture. My jaw just about hit the floor.

I’m not sure if any of these people even coughed up a dime, though I do have an image in my mind of Keith chasing one of them down a hallway at a big gathering of Montgomery County insiders one time — or maybe the guy was running away from Keith? How could you not love that moxie and aspiration?

Maryland Matters, as I said, has undergone some cosmetic and operational changes through the years, and will see a few more in the years ahead. But our mission and devotion to that mission remains the same. And Keith was part of our foundation. We miss him, just as we’ll feel nostalgic about that old La Madeleine in Bethesda. But unlike a building that vanishes, Keith’s presence remains strongly felt around here; he’ll always be a critical part of our origin story, and our growth and progress.

Onward and upward, as Keith always said!


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Remembering Keith Haller’s indefatigable spirit