Thursday, July 02, 2009

Blair Ewing: A Tribute

By Sharon Dooley.

The last time I saw Blair was in May at the annual Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee Spring Ball. He looked quite fragile as he walked unsteadily to his table, but said he was “fine” when I greeted him. This was the same response I had received at the NAACP Dinner in March and the Democratic Holiday Party in December. But many knew all was not well, he was far too gaunt and frail to be “fine”. So when I heard he died of carcinoid this week I was saddened, but not surprised. In reflection that May evening, I thought it is too bad Blair is not being honored tonight – we are not going to have a chance to do so in his presence much longer. But seeing him at these big gatherings month after month speaks to his character and to his courage. As an intelligent man, he knew he was ill and still kept to his routine. He asked no sympathy and carried his dignity forward with each uncertain step.

I’m not claiming great camaraderie with this man – he was not the boisterous political type who is always ‘meeting and greeting’ and has thousands of acquaintances, but few friends. No, Blair was a serious intellectual person, evidenced by his status as Phi Beta Kappa and previous collegiate rank as a professor. I first met him when he was a member of the Montgomery County Board of Education and found him to be caring and passionate about the education of students in this county. He has always been kind and friendly toward me and I considered him a respected friend and elder. He was an active advocate equally both for the services of gifted students as well as for those students whose educational needs were not being met by the system. He was outspoken concerning civil rights and equal opportunities in public education and first won election opposing conservatives. When I worked with a statewide advocacy group for gifted children’s education, Blair was a source of suggestions, advice and experience; he was always approachable and down to earth.

He really liked being on the County Council and did an excellent job of it. When the council at the time cut county clinic services for the mentally ill, I remember his crusade to try to restore these services for county residents. He kept his emphasis on education but added environmental issues to his plate and was an early opponent of the ICC. He was the real at large representative for and of the populace on the council around 2000. When he ran for re-election for his at large seat, those on the End Gridlock slate targeted him. County Executive Duncan additionally claimed he was an obstructionist to plans for growth; however few really expected his defeat in 2002. Across the county many spoke of “Blair” that year – he had been an elected official for 22 years on the school board and 4 on the council. That demonstrates a legacy that few could match before or probably will not afterwards.

Blair Ewing also did not forget and started working for Martin O’Malley as soon as he announced his candidacy for governor. He marshaled many in the county to this quest and was publicly jubilant at the O’Malley victory. Named to the State Board of Education by the governor, his advocacy for Montgomery County continued. In fact, one of his final acts as a State Board member was to support he county’s request for a waiver on the maintenance of effort – just a few short weeks ago in May. To the end he served this county and stood up for his beliefs and principles. He wore his passions as a vest – they were a part of his uniform. One always knew where he stood and where you stood with him. Blair was an old-fashioned guy in some ways – he couldn’t be called a progressive – he was a true liberal and remained one even after many tried to smear that label - he wore it proudly. He didn’t test the wind before he chose his side in a battle; he went stolidly into the fray with the might of right on his side. When I ran in 2006 I was honored to receive the endorsement of both Blair and Neal Potter; neither were given lightly, both were proudly received. Recently in the District Council 4 race Blair Ewing endorsed Cary Lamari, still keeping to his principles and standing his ground, still involved in the politics of the county.

Today Рhis quiet person to person campaigns, his principled stands, his passions for people oriented services, seem almost pass̩ in the loud frenetic media driven world of politics we see daily. I hope that many will now pause, reflect and be thankful for his service and leadership in our county and will use his example to inspire future leaders. I know that I will. Many in Montgomery County will really miss Blair Ewing and I am certain join with me in sending condolences to his widow and family.