August 29, 1978, Tuesday, Final Edition
SECTION: Metro; B1
LENGTH: 1472 words
HEADLINE: Lee: Bearer of Family Tradition;
Governorship Needed to Match Stature of His Ancestors
BYLINE: By Michael Weisskopf, Washington Post Staff Writer
Blair Lee III remembers reading a biography of American political dynasties a few years ago and coming to a chapter on his own famous family.
The modern-day Lees were described in the book as a "respectable group" but in no way comparable to their powerful ancestors.
"It [the chapter on the Lee family] made me damn irritated,"
recalled Lee, Maryland's acting governor who is running for his own term.
was that the Lees had disappeared off the scene or gone off to sea. I would enjoy turning (the author) around on that, I know we haven't gone
Lee has enjoyed more than a respectable career in the last
30 years of Maryland politics as a hard-working planner for Montgomery
respected member of the state legislature, the state's first lieutenant governor and, for the past 14 months, its acting governor.
But he has never come very close to the loftier positions
attained by his famous forebears until now, at the age of 62. This gubernatorial
offers Lee perhaps his last chance to reach the top and take his place in the history books alongside family members who led the nation and
state for more than 300 years.
"His main motivation in life is heritage," said the acting
governor's son, Blair Lee IV. "He'll recall how his grandfather put him
to bed at night and
told him stories about his family and when they met with Lincoln.You might say Dad is in communication with his ancestors."
Seeking the highest elected office in Maryland is in many
ways a natural extension of family ideals for the elder Lee, who was taught
at an early
age that "politics is the family's business in the good sense" and government service of the highest calling for gifted men.
He could not have escape the lesson of noblesse oblige
as the son of Col. E. Brooke Lee, a dominant force in local and state politics
decades, and the grandson of Blair Lee, Maryland's first elected U.S. senator. Two of their ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence.
But in other ways the campaign represents a reaffirmation
of the family's longstanding values and goals.It has served as a vehicle
three generations of Lees and resolving many of the tensions that split father from son and grandson from grandfather five years ago.
Back in 1973, while serving his first term as lieutenant
governor, Lee admitted going through a "period of massive disillousionment."
deeply troubled by Spiro T. Agnew's downfall, Watergate and news stories hinting at, but never proving improprieties on his own part.
His political uneasiness coincided with a number of family
crises, including the suicide of one of his seven sons. Another son who
for peddling marijuana was acquitted on technical grounds. Other sons dropped out of school and were leaving home to seek alternative life
In an extraordinarily frank interview at the time, Lee
confessed that he lacked "the kind of driving ambition to reach the top."
He said he was
considering getting "the hell out" of politics because of the growing public perception that "all politicans are crooks by definiton."
Five years later, Lee is seeking the governorship with
unqualified ambition. He accepts the occasional political advice of his
father, now 85 years
old. He is surrounded by several of his sons who have joined the campaign to help their father achieve a goal they once rejected.
Blair Lee IV, who gave up a promising career in law and
politics to eke out a living on a subsistence farm in Appalachia, was making
spring trip to his grandfather's farm in northern Montgomery County to pick up a few cows and a bull last year where he stopped at a
fund-raiser for his father and was asked to help in the campaign.
"There's a lot more here for me than a campaign," said
the younger Lee, who serves as his father's deputy campaign manager in
sensitive money and media matters. "There's been some healing, some coming together. The family reflects the reconciliation that's happening in
Colonel Lee, who calls the acting governor "the boy" and
pitches in with campaign contributions, has made his peace with his grandchildren.
the elderly gentleman-farmer, who served in several high state posts in his era, the campaign also means more than an election.
"It's pleasant for the family to remain capable and eligible
and honest and presentable," he said in an interview at his Damascus, Md.,
farm. "I'm right proud of Blair.I'm proud of anybody who makes the first term. He's keeping up the family's good work."
Lee's blue bloodline and aristocratic bearing make him
a special breed of politican in Maryland, an articulate, studious man who
often seems more
suited for the Foreign Service than Maryland's rough-and-tumble, Runyonesque political world centered on the political clubhouse and crab
His courtly manner, moderate political views and sophisticated
sense of humor made him a popular political figure with his suburban constituency
in Montgomery County, who elected him twice to the state House of Delegates in 1954 and 1958 and once to the state Senate in 1966.
His origins came in handy again in 1969 when Marvin Mandel,
a shrewd Jewish politican from Baltimore, was elected governor by the General
Assembly to fill a vanancy and wanted a secretary of state who would give geographical and social balance to his new administration. He chose
In 1970, Lee ran on Mandel's ticket and became the state's
first lieutenant governor as voters approved the institution of the new
through a constitutional amendment. Under Mandel, he served as a loyal administration lobbyist and spokesman who specialized in fiscal affairs,
education, health and welfare.
Lee became acting governor last August after Mandel was
convicted on political corruption charges and suspended from office. The
of the office had actually been transferred to him two months earlier after Mandel suffered an apparent stroke as his second corruption trial was
While he has generally remained loyal and sympathetic to
Mandel and found state government jobs for most of Mandel's former aides,
gingerly tried to disassociated himself from the convicted governor by criticizing him for lacking moral leadership and candor, which Lee considers
vital in a government leader.
"I had a very good working relationship with Marvin," he
said in an interview. "But it was essentially a 9 to 5 relationship. I
was never one of the
boys, the group invited over to the (governor's) mansion, or the boat. The inside group was the inside group and I wasn't part of it."
A product of St. Paul's preparatory school and Princeton
University, Lee has displayed a mastery of the English language and a genial
at his press conferences that contrasts greatly with Mandel's persistent secretiveness and tortured prose. Lee often parries with reporters and
treats them to his self-depreciating humor.
He cavaleirly speaks out on controversial topics, earning
the reputation of a "blueblood Harry Truman" while infuriating his political
his offhand, depdecatory remarks about sometimes sensitive social and political groups. When the University of Maryland was considering bring a
Marxist professor, he called the proposed move unwise.
Always wary of creating a backlash to his patrician image,
he has tried to assume a homespun role, complaining that servants at the
Mansion launder his pajamas too often and trading in a $170-a-day luxury suite at the governor's conference in Detroit for a room one-third the
In private, Lee is sedate and withdrawn. He chain-smokes
menthol cigarettes and flutters his eyelids rapidly while thinking of responses
questions. At lunch with his staff at his favorite French restaurant in Annapolis, the entire meal often goes by with few words exchanged.
"He's not the kind of guy Mark Russell (the comedian) tells
stories about downtown," observed Shep Abell, who served as Lee's executive
assistant for three years in the early 1970s. "That probably comes from so many nights curled up with the budget. He's not a very anecdotal
True to his aristocratic groundings, Lee does not want
to look too hungry for victory. Even the governor's race, he says, "is
not life or death.
It's nice to have your name listed in the Maryland Manual. But it's not an obsessive ambition for me."
Lee's low-key style, unwillingness to make a clean break
with Mandel and his indifference to many political rituals - for instance
resolutely avoided putting out position papers in this campaign - have inspired critics and political rivals to say he lacks the commitment,
imagination and leadership qualities to hold the state's highest elective office.
GRAPHIC: Picture 1, Blair Lee III: hard-working, articulate,
studious, courtly in manner, with sophisticated sense of humor. Photos
Washington Post; Picture 2, COL. E. BROOKE LEE; Picture 3, BLAIR LEE IV, . . . father, son of present standard-bearer in Lee political dynasty.