Don Mohler: The Other Wayne Curry

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By: Donald Mohler 

Over the past week, you’ve read all of the well-deserved accolades regarding former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry.  By now you know that in 1994 he was elected as the first African-American County Executive of Prince George’s County, and his passion and vision helped to create one of the most successful majority African American communities in the nation.  You know the Wayne Curry that brought fiscal sanity back to Prince George’s County and the Wayne Curry whose leadership made a National Harbor possible.

But this is about another Wayne Curry.  This is about the 1968 Wayne Curry.  And that was a long time ago.

In 1968, the Dow reached 900, the average income in the United States was just under $8,000 a year, the Big Mac was about to become a dietary staple, and a gallon of gas cost 34 cents.  Benjamin was trying to figure out plastics, Rosemary did the same for her baby, and the Beatles stood on a rooftop giving the world “Hey Jude.” At 6:30 p.m. every night, Uncle Walter somberly informed the nation about a My Lai Massacre and a Tet Offensive.  Martin was assassinated in April and Bobby in June.  A guy named Eugene made Hubert Humphrey anything but inevitable as America was being ripped apart at its seams.

It was also the year that a 17-year-old African American kid from Bladensburg High School met an 18-year-old white kid from Mount St. Joe on their first day at Western Maryland, known to most of you today as McDaniel College in Westminster. I loved the Colts.  He loved the Redskins.  And we both loved Earl the Pearl.  This college thing was going to be alright.

When you are talking about events that took place 46 years ago (I can’t even get my head around that thought), you almost feel as if you should start with that disclaimer at the beginning of American Hustle – “some of this actually happened.”    With that caveat in mind, here is how I remember it:

When I arrived that August morning, most of the students on campus looked like me.  When Wayne arrived, they did not.  The former student government president from Bladensburg High was once again breaking barriers.  He was one of four or five African American students enrolled at the school. Wayne had seen this play before, and he wasn’t in the least bit intimidated.  Before long everyone at school had a nickname.  Jack was the Bear.  Mark was the Preacher.  George was Bemo, Charlie was Chazmo, but Wayne was always Wayne.  With such charisma and personality, you don’t need a nickname.  

Despite rumors to the contrary over the years, Wayne and I were not roommates.  We were dormmates, and he spent many nights in my Catonsville home, and I journeyed to his beloved Bladensburg, but we never actually lived together on campus.  In one of our grander moments, Wayne decided he should be the freshman class president and that I would be his campaign manager.  Of course he won, and I think my major contribution was sitting outside of the cafeteria strumming the guitar, singing a very catchy campaign song we had written one night after far too many libations.  Those classic lyrics still ring in my head:  “Vote for Curry.  He’s our man.  If Wayne can’t do it, no one can.”  It is still hard to believe that we didn’t land a career in the jingle business.

Back to Westminster in 1968: I chose Western Maryland College because the Colts practiced there — true story — not proud of that thoughtful academic reason for selecting a college, but facts are facts, and somehow it was a perfect fit.  As such, I had heard the rumors that the likes of Colt greats such as Big Daddy Lipscomb and Lenny Moore were denied service in local restaurants.  But surely that was then and this was now.  Surely times had changed.

So one night Wayne and I decided we wanted to get some blueberry pancakes, and Baugher’s had the best pancakes in Westminster – now keep in mind, we didn’t have many choices in those days, but these were good pancakes.  We go across the street and the restaurant was pretty crowded, but we found a table without much delay.  Fifteen minutes passed and 30 minutes became 45.  I didn’t get it.  People who came in well after us were all getting served.  Wayne just looked at me, smiled, and said, “You don’t get out much with black folks do you?”  The kid from Catonsville was starting to get his real college education at that moment.  Needless to say, we didn’t leave, and we eventually got our pancakes. 

Wayne didn’t wear the struggle on his sleeve, but at key moments we were allowed a glimpse into his soul.  There was this moment at a party late one night when a song from Dion Dimucci was playing on the turntable — yes, the Dion Dimucci of Runaround Sue and The Wanderer fame.  Only this time, it wasn’t rock and roll. It was something else.  Dion’s transformation resulted in the release of a song titled Abraham, Martin and John.  With sadness yet a resolve in his voice, Wayne looked a couple of us squarely in the eye and quietly said, “This just can’t be.  This just can’t be.” And at that moment, you knew that if Wayne Curry had anything to do with it, it would not be.  The Catonsville boy’s education continued.

Wayne loved Prince George’s County.  He loved his mom and dad, and he idolized his older brother Daryl.  In the movie version of our experiences we would have stayed very close for nearly 50 years.  But this isn’t the movies.  He had his career, and I had mine.  He had his family obligations, and I had mine.  Our paths would cross periodically. We would see each other in Annapolis, and we would grab an occasional lunch in Little Italy.  When we did get together, it was as if were right back at a Friday afternoon GIGIF drinking beer and talking politics.

One of our last really good laughs revolved around the many rumors that Wayne would change parties and run for Lieutenant Governor with Bob Ehrlich.  Every time those rumors would heat up, I would call him, laughing hysterically and say, “How long are you going to play with these people?”  The laughter on the other end of the phone could be heard from Bladensburg to Catonsville.  He knew that I knew that the thought of Wayne Curry being number two for anyone was a non-starter.  And as frustrated as he could be with the party of his youth, it was far too much a part of his being to change at this point in his life.  Those conversations would typically end with Wayne giggling, “Come on now.  You know I’m just having some fun.”

We lost a good man last week.  I was proud to know him when.

Didn't you love the things that he stood for?
Didn't he try to find some good for you and me?
And we'll be free
Someday soon, it's gonna be one day

Anybody here seen my old friend Wayne?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin, and John

Donald Mohler is the Chief of Staff for Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. He can be reached at .

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