William Donald Schaefer’s Funeral serves as quiet street fair

The soul of William Donald Schaefer wasn’t necessarily in the speeches by the state’s dignataries from Senator Barbara Mikulski to U.S. Rep. (and always rumored mayoral candidate) Kweisi Mfume . Try standing in the street outside St. Paul Episcopal Church on Charles and Saratoga streets. That’s where Schaefer prefered to linger anyway. While he pushed for big changes in the marbled halls of government, he never missed a crab cake dinner or failed to loiter with “the druggies” as one woman observer put it, in front of Lexington Market playing the part of civic barker. Schaefer was all about impressing his impact one handshake at a time. This is where he seemed most comfortable in the oddity that is street life. Except the day of  his funeral, the street of Baltimore failed to deliver its normally reliable panache. Honestly apart from the usual dignitaries and wanna-be dignitaries, there was a tumbleweed vibe, the hanger’s on in a ghost town as if they pack themselves in a Saloon in hopes of reviving the days long gone only to find the taps all dry. (See Scene in The Outlaw Josey Wales for further elaboration). And that spoke volumes in the same way when I went down and watched Martin O’Malley launch is Governor Campaign (last year) and saw a cluster of what seemed be paid employees and few bored government workers. Even then I tried to compare this wilted extravaganza to what Schaefer’s statewide spectacle must have looked like. But under bullying clouds going wild in blue skies, Schaefer got a light dusting of true outcome from The People that the Old Timey Pol used so well as a backdrop.

loitering, some people’s connections that drove them to take the day off to go to the funeral was dubious like one Patterson Park resident who remembers offering Schaefer a pair of vice grips when he his car broke down in a parade. “He told me to run along.” And the repeating version of  people down on their luck getting a job or public housing from Schaefer came off as if we were burying what James Smith declared, “The Last Don” not a public figure. But what really was telling was the great absence of people in the street. Factor in the clumps of media there were probably 50 people milling about and some of them were eating lunch. Sometimes it takes a death to realize that the change has been more sweeping than we had thought.

Robert Finn remembers running into Schaefer “and I’d tell him about a pothole and he told he already knew about it.” That was enough for him to stand outside the church, “and say goodbye to the man.”

Desha Dodopia. Owner of Desha’s Den, a former bar on Glover Street. She said she once spotted Schaefer on the street and invited him to her bar. “He came right on it. Just like that. We’ve been friends ever since.”

Antoinette Olanrewanjo, she met Schaefer when she was five years homeless, sleeping behind My Sister’s Place then on Saratoga Street, sometimes on the very steps that lead into Schaefer’s memorial service. She was there now, a woman who has left homelessness behind.“He saw me out on the steps and he said get up be free,” she said. “He told me let the people see the homeless.”

Brian McMillion called him the Don of Baltimore. He remembers when he worked in a community garden off of Greenmount Avenue and they wrote to the city asking for funding “he came out and gave us the check. He loved marigolds”


Thomas Forsythe Sr.  still a city worker, recalled when he started out as a mail room clerk fetching Schaefer’s breakfast.I would go to give him his change and he’d say keep it. Keep it. Put it in your pocket Do it now. Everything with him was do it now.”Schaefer tried to transfer the do it now attitude to the state government  with mixed resulted. His gumshoe technique didn’t get a thorough translation in the bureaucratic mish-mosh of state government. But his point man Luther Starnes, officially titled was a community liaison, but Schaefer thought of him as Secretary of Hard Luck. All those letters,the desperate ones written by people who believe that head of state could actually do something — he would get those to sort out. Schaefer would send him ones with the Get It Done emphasis.

“We never said this is  a state problem or a federal problem, it was our problem,” Sterner said. He recalled one time a Marylander-ex-pat and veteran living in Western Virginia and was getting nothing but hassles getting an official Maryland Flag from the Veterans Affairs. Starnes drove one out special for him.

“No one ever heard about that, but these are the kinds of things he did,” he said.

Starnes, (Right) Just after giving a eulogy.

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