Longtime Aide Talks About Schaefer’s Final Hours

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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The death of Baltimore mayor, governor and comptroller William Donald Schaefer is still on the minds of many Marylanders.

His longtime aide, who was with him when he died, is speaking out.

Mary Bubala has more on his final hours and his last goodbyes.  

Schaefer spent decades in the public spotlight, always doing something for the city he loved, whether it was fixing a pothole or building a huge tourist attraction.  In his final hours, those who knew him said “thank you.” 

William Donald Schaefer died peacefully early Monday night with his cat “Willie” sitting nearby.

His longtime aide, Lainy LeBow-Sachs, was holding his hand.  

“Well, I was saying all day long how much I loved him and what he meant to me. I was saying it over and over and over.  I think he could hear me,” she said.

LeBow-Sachs arranged a conference call with people Schaefer knew and loved through the years. One by one Monday afternoon, they said their goodbyes on the phone.

Then, something spontaneous happened.

“At the very end is this phenomenal trumpet player and musician. Next thing I hear is Maryland, my Maryland.  So everybody was sobbing and it was quite a moment,” said LeBow-Sachs.  “It was so wonderful that when we hung up, I was just so happy that they had done that and everyone had that moment with him.”

“I just decided I would pick up my horn and play a tribute to him, `Maryland, My Maryland,’ the state song.  I couldn’t think of anything more fitting,” Jari Villanueva said.

Mark Wasserman, Schaefer’s former chief-of-staff, was on that call, too.  He first worked with Schaefer when he was just 26.

“You try and gather your words, think what it is you want to say.  I told him he was in my heart and in our hearts and thanked him for everything he’d done for me—which is enormous—and for the people,” Wasserman said.  “It is a moment that will live with me and everyone who experienced it forever.”

The public’s last chance to say goodbye begins next Monday when he will lie in repose at the State House in Annapolis. Click here for the funeral plans.

Some of the city’s and state’s most powerful lawmakers are just beginning to grasp what’s been lost.

“We’ve lost a lot.  We owe it to him and to ourselves to pick up that legacy,” said Mary Pat Clarke, Baltimore City councilwoman.

“He was a friend, but he was a friend to a lot of people,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

“For all his impatience with excuses and bureaucracy, he always had time for a citizen who approached him in any setting and had a problem,” said Governor Martin O’Malley.

Schaefer is also remembered by the man who defeated him in the race for state comptroller.

“Governor Schaefer was a man of compassion without limits,” said Peter Franchot, Maryland comptroller. “He was driven by a need to speak for those who had no other voice. At the end of the day, he measured his own success by his ability to help the people.”

LeBow-Sachs says she’s prepared to speak at Schaefer’s funeral on Wednesday, something the former governor asked her to do.

“You know, they’ll never been another William Donald Schaefer. He’s just one of a kind. And I think everybody would agree with me,” she said.

LeBow-Sachs says so many people have sent in letters with stories of how Schaefer helped them, she hasn’t had a chance to read them all. She says it would make a great book.

She also says as part of the celebration of Schaefer’s life, the Morgan State choir will perform at his funeral next week, along with the marching band.

Meanwhile, Ron Matz remembers a memorable interview he did with Schaefer four years ago that he calls “classic William Donald Schaefer.” 

It took place at Jimmy’s Restaurant on Jan. 8 2007.  Schaefer’s wit was still razor sharp.

“Good to see you,” said Matz.

“I wish I could say the same for you, but I’m not the big liar I used to be,” said Schaefer.

Matz and Schaefer talked football that day with Indianapolis coming to town to play the Ravens.  At the time, Schaefer remembered another Baltimore icon.

“The greatest Colt that ever lived is a man by the name of Johnny Unitas. He was the nicest man in sports. The whole team was gentlemen,” Schaefer said.

Click here for a slideshow about William Donald Schaefer.

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