When I heard that my old friend Mike Busch passed away the day before the General Assembly ended, I thought of my mother, who died when she was 94. She and Mike were close — they used to meet and chat in Graul’s most Sundays — and they could both smell BS a mile away. Mom used to say that Mike and my godfather, former Republican governor Ted McKeldin, were the only two politicians she ever trusted. My mother was a very good judge of character.
I knew Mike from when he taught history and coached football at St. Mary’s High School. Over the years he never changed. He was always just Mike. He didn’t pretend to be someone important, even though as the longest-tenured Speaker of the House in Maryland history he was one of the three most powerful persons in the state for almost a quarter-century.
Wonderful things are going to be said about Mike in the next few weeks. There will be lots of $5 words and glowing metaphors that rise up to the heavens. And they will all be true.
But there were certain fundamental truths that made Mike such a special person.
Mike started his public career as a football highlight reel and ended as a coach. In fact, that’s what they called him at the legislature. For Mike, politics was just a different kind of team sport. You won or lost as a team. There were no stars.
Mike’s political mentor was former Annapolis Mayor Roger ‘Pip’ Moyer — to this day the most revered white politician in the black communities of Annapolis and another great athlete and team player. From Pip, Mike learned to care about the forgotten and disenfranchised African-American community of his hometown. And, yes, the black vote helped propel Mike to every election victory he ever achieved.
But Mike’s devotion to the poor and the needy went much deeper than that. His relationship with luminaries like the Rev. Leroy Bowman at First Baptist Church and the legendary civil rights champion Zastro Simms was based on love and respect.
When Mike spoke at the dedication of the Wiley Bates Legacy Center in 2006, I watched him move joyfully through the crowd. He laughed with ease as he hugged young and old alike, sharing stories from their collective past and remembering the sacrifice of those who dared to dream of a colorblind world. Mike was at home and celebrating with his extended family.
Most of the work Mike Busch did in the public housing communities of Annapolis never made it onto a political brochure. He gave away gift certificates and toys to poor kids at Christmas and sponsored the Christmas dinner at the Stanton Center every year for hundreds who came to break bread and give thanks. He delivered Thanksgiving baskets door-to-door with community activist Curtis Spencer … sponsored the Robinwood Summer Basketball Team … gave away tickets for Orioles and Wizards games to public housing kids. And there was the time he let a family from Newtowne 20 sit in the Governor’s Box at a Ravens game.
God only knows how many people’s electric bills he paid so their power wouldn’t get shut off, or how many jobs he found for deserving young men or women in the black community or heartfelt recommendation letters he wrote for college admission. Mike always helped the people of Annapolis who were most in need, and he never asked for recognition or thanks.
Since 1777, there have been 108 Speakers of the House. In those 241 years, Mike Busch was the only speaker from Anne Arundel County since 1867. It will probably be a very long time before that train comes ’round again. But as Mike once said to me, “Most people think the Speaker of the House is just a big box on the wall.”
Mike Busch was a kind and caring man. He served the people of Annapolis as our representative in the General Assembly with dignity, dedication and honor. In a world of fakes, Mike was the genuine article.
But in the end, I will remember Mike’s infectious smile. He was always happy and upbeat, even when it was fourth and long. And as I write these closing words, I can hear Mike’s goofy laugh as he remembers some old story and says, That reminds me of when …p