When an obituary came through the Jewish Times recently with a scant two lines and a small blurry photo, it prompted the JT to look deeper into what else might lie behind this short tribute to a life. The obituary was for a Howard Wexler, 77, who died on Sept. 8, and it mentioned only a surviving sister, his late parents and the funeral date.
But it turns out that Wexler had a much larger life than was reflected in his short death notice. In fact, Wexler had been profiled in The Baltimore Sun 22 years ago on the occasion of his retirement. After nearly 30 years as a Baltimore County employee delivering mail in the county government office buildings in Towson, he was moving on.
The article, which described him as “impish” and “colorful,” said that over his decades as a mailman in the county’s seat of government he had become friends with many a county executive and other powerful pols, including the late Sen. Harry J. “Soft Shoes” McGuirk, a colorful character himself, who served 22 years in the Maryland statehouse as a delegate and senator from 1960 to 1982.
McGuirk’s daughter, Renee McGuirk Spence, was sad to hear of Wexler’s death and remembered him fondly as a dedicated man engaged deeply in county and state politics.
A former 20-year director of government relations for the Maryland State Department of Education, Spence is now executive director of the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland.
“Howard Wexler loved my father dearly and was always at our political events. While I worked at MSDE, Howard would occasionally stop in to visit me when he came to Baltimore,” Spence said. “Howard was always so pleasant and happy and took every opportunity to tell me how much he loved and missed my dad. I am truly saddened to hear of his passing, I know it was hard for Howard after his parents died. What a remarkable family!”
Wexler and his parents, longtime Randallstown residents, were known fixtures at area political events, including at a 1995 roast of then-County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger’s campaign manager.
“It was fun,” Wexler said of the roast, held at a Reisterstown restaurant.
Ruppersberger, a former assistant state’s attorney, Baltimore County Councilman and county executive from 1994-1998, is now in his eighth term as U.S. Representative for the 2nd District.
“I’m so sad to hear about Howard’s passing. Howard was a fixture in the halls of the Baltimore County government buildings — everyone knew him, everyone was his friend,” Ruppersberger said. “He had an infectious smile and when he delivered your mail, he made your day better. He really loved his job and was a dedicated public servant.”
Wexler’s sister Eunice Farrington, 70, was a dancer who left Baltimore around 1966 to pursue her career, eventually settling in Las Vegas, where she started Farrington Entertainment & Productions with her husband Blair. She said she always admired her brother, who attended a special needs school in Baltimore before moving on to Forest Park High School. The family moved to Randallstown when she was 12.
“When I was growing up, I wanted to be just like him. He was left-handed, I wanted to be left-handed,” Farrington recalled with a laugh. “I tried to be left-handed, but it didn’t work. The kids used to tease him when he was younger, and I was always standing up for him.”
“Everybody loved him. He was a really good guy and had an incredible memory,” she added. “He could repeat gossip from 15, 20 years ago and would remember every detail.”
Meanwhile, former County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson, who also served as a state senator and delegate, is now president and CEO of the Maryland Zoo. Although on a cross-country plane trip last week, Hutchinson took the time in between flights to share his favorite Wexler story.
“I remember Howard very well. It seemed as if he was in my office more often than most of my staff. He loved his job. He was on a first-name basis with more county employees, including me, than anyone else,” Hutchinson recalled. “He once bugged me to buy him a golf cart to deliver mail. Reluctantly, I did. Had to take it away the same week because we saw him driving it on York Road.”
Wexler attended Forest Park High School, where The Sun reported he recalled fondly his high school days “with producer Barry Levinson, Leonard ‘Boogie’ Weinglass and Baltimore’s other ‘diner guys.’”
On his last day of work before his retirement, Wexler, who had cerebral palsy and a hearing impairment, mused on what he would miss and who might miss him, after nearly three decades in the county’s halls of power.
“I know Dutch will be lost without me,” he told The Sun, “but life must go on.”
Wexler, son of the late Doris and Bernard Wexler, is survived by his sister. Funeral services and interment were held at Ahavas Sholom Cemetery in Rosedale on Sept. 13.