Peter Auchincloss: The Wizard and The Werewolf - A Reminiscence From Damian O’Doherty

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“As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, how good it is, is what it matters.” —J.K. Rowling

Peter Auchincloss rolled into my office 20 minutes early for a meeting, carrying several giant, black 3-ring binders. “Peter, the infrastructure team can’t handle another set of binders,” I said sardonically. “You are the only guy that reads, ranks, and prioritizes anymore. The rest of us just Facebook.”

“These aren’t for the team, my boy. These binders are for you,” Peter retorted. He dressed timelessly in khaki chords, a blue-button down, and a blue blazer. The bow-tie was a special touch, for everyday.

“Peter, I can’t even read summaries of summaries, let alone your binders.”

“This is different. This is for the most important decision of your life,” Peter said, as he walked away to our 28th floor outside balcony overlooking the city that birthed and launched America’s most impactful women — from Mikulski to Paepcke to Pelosi to Oprah.

Peter left the binders right in front of me. Annoyed, I opened the binders to get a glance. There they were. It was all so meticulously ordered, labeled, and highlighted. So much so that any yellow sticky note would go on work-stoppage in the face of this perfectly arranged set of documents.

The binders were filled with studies stacked upon studies. But, the studies weren’t about water or infrastructure, Peter’s area of acute policy expertise. The binders were about his passion: education, athletics, grit, and perseverance.

There was Dr. Richard A Holgren’s “Steeped In Learning: The Student Experience at All-Girls Schools,” Dr. Linda Sax’s “Women Graduates Of Single-Sex and Coeducational High Schools: Differences in their Characteristics and the Transition to College,” and Dr. Rosemary C. Salomone’s, “Same, Difference, Equal: Rethinking Single-Sex Schooling.” On and on, there were at least a dozen studies in the binders. These were studies about how girls get ahead. How girls achieve. How girls win.

Peter poked his head inside from the outside. All I could see was his face and his bow-tie. Peter was such a charmer, you could hardly smell the tobacco. He almost made second hand smoke tolerable, like the stuff that plumes out of orange BPW cones. “You’ll gravitate to the leadership studies, but you should focus on the STEM studies.” He popped back outside and puffed the cigarette.

He looked at his City. Peter was the planning chairman longer than most Baltimore pols stayed in office, or even jail. Peter was at the center of his city for 25 years. Now, he was at the center of my little girl’s life. 

Peter knew my four year old, Avey, was preparing for Kindergarten. You laugh. But, you prepare for Kindergarten in Baltimore. Public/private? Single sex? Co-ed? Steve Sibel’s Park School or Arthur Adler’s McDonough School? The Schaftel’s Roland Park or The Carey’s Bryn Mawr?

Peter overheard me talking with D.C. Power Lawyer Tim Maloney about his daughters’ experiences at an all-girl’s school in the Washington area. Maloney had a perfect anecdote about a fellow school parent who worked 3 jobs and watched over the endless Visitation homework from her 4 story walk-up. Auchincloss knew Don Mohler was pumping me about the Blue Ribbon excellence at West Towson Elementary, over-ruling his own niece’s tutelage at Bryn Mawr for a proper public education and an all-star principal. Mohler’s educational advice was pivotal and Maloney’s moving, but Peter liked to make his case with data.

“All these schools are amazing, but you have to read the data to understand how to make it work for your daughter,” Peter pointed out like a professor.

Peter has done this before, I thought. Peter paid 26 consecutive years of tuition at Baltimore’s all-girls Bryn Mawr School. Two daughters all the way through. Peter would explain how enormously prepared his daughters, Sara and Gabby, were for secondary school and higher education. But, Peter wasn’t pushing the brand. Peter was pushing women in education. Peter was pushing female leadership in STEM and athletics. Peter was thinking of the example his wife, Lisa, set for his family. I couldn’t resist, thanks to Peter, I became a 5-time payor of Bryn Mawr all-girls tuition. I hope my girl can hold a candle to the grit, smarts, and courage of Peter’s daughters - Sara and Gabby. Peter told me his girls surpassed every lofty expectation he could possibly conjure.

In a town riveted by high school credentials, Peter brought even more expertise to bear. While Baltimoreans loves their independent and Catholic Schools, Peter was raised in Connecticut and was an award winning student leader at Kingswood Oxford School. He brought an authentic New England eye to all-things Baltimore.

I asked my 9 year-old daughter, Avey, about Peter. Thanks to her mother, Bryn Mawr’s Carol Martin and Bryn Mawr’s Meghann Mohler-McMahon, Avey is an avid reader. Avey just finished five of the Harry Potter tomes. I asked Avey which Harry Potter character Peter brought to her mind. Avey says Peter had all the kindness and problem-solving of Hogwart’s professor Remus Lupin. Lupin was one of the four creators of the Maruader’s Map, while Peter delivered the only Baltimore City Comprehensive Master Plan of a generation. Peter and Lupin knew their worlds better than anyone. They made the maps to prove it. Together, Lupin and Peter eschewed the dark arts found in wizardry and politics. You can hear the fair-minded Hogwarts professor in this Auchincloss quote, captured by The Baltimore Sun in 2005, “What we want to do is develop a useful working document that transcends politics.” Policy, planning, and governance were not a game to Peter Auchincloss, they were a lifetime.

Lupin and Auchincloss were also both werewolves - at just the right moments. The night and special holidays brought on unique characteristics in Peter’s persona. Peter used these times to bring Baltimore together to break bread and celebrate our shared moments. The Ruth’s Chris Bananas Foster sorcery was classic Auchincloss smoke and mirrors. Peter’s dessert making routine was as disciplined, dynamic, and full of flare as Peter himself. Peter and Lisa’s steeplechase parties won all the award’s and attracted the states most impactful people - from Annapolis lobbyist Tim Perry, City officials from Bill Cole to Eric Costello, to Baltimore redeveloper Arsh Mirmiran and land use experts Joe Woolman and Ryan Potter. The Auchincloss Family hosted Baltimoreans at The Blessing of The Hounds in Hunt Valley on Thanksgiving Day and incredible parties in Dickeyville - home to many wizarding homes, like the Muggle village of Otter St Catchpole in the Potter books.

Dickeyville blessed Lisa, Sara, and Gabby with a quiet, glowing vigil with candles lighting the path to the town chapel. The family grieved quietly, together alone. Peter brought so much verve to Baltimore, but at that moment, it was the stillness that we will always remember. Baltimore will never be the same without Peter Auchincloss, but Peter left a legacy of purposeful public engagement that we know his beautiful and accomplished daughters will continue to bring forward.

Please join The Auchincloss Family to memorialize Peter’s great life on Saturday, January 5 at 3pm at the Baltimore War Memorial - Memorial Hall.

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