Copyright 1985 The Washington Post
The Washington Post
October 29, 1985, Tuesday, Final Edition
SECTION: First Section; Editorial; A20
LENGTH: 472 words
HEADLINE: Blair Lee III
Blair Lee III was a professional politician in the more elevated sense of the term. What interested him was the way Maryland's turbulent
democracy works, and he set about learning to know the state and its government with the same precision that a surgeon learns anatomy. Like
a surgeon, his purpose was to make the thing work better. In 1977- 78 he served briefly as acting governor, and that is the tag usually
attached to his name. But there was a great deal more to his long career than that.
He was born into one of Maryland's great political families
and entered Montgomery County's Democratic politics at a time, shortly
War II, when the party was fiercely divided between the old country-style machine and the increasingly well-organized suburbs. The enduring
vice of Montgomery politics is an addiction to a narrow and zealous factionalism that was never worse than in those years. Mr. Lee's father, E.
Brooke Lee, was the dominant figure in the old organization, while by age, education and outlook the younger Mr. Lee had much in common with
the new wave of suburban voters who were determined to seize control. He chose to be a broker, valued by each side for his assured
knowledge and his detached good judgment -- but that detachment always made him slightly suspect within the party. He retained that talent
for detachment throughout his life; it protected his integrity, but it probably set a limit to his success in election campaigns.
He served in both houses of the General Assembly, then
became lieutenant governor under Marvin Mandel and, after Mr. Mandel's
charges of corruption, replaced him. The aura of scandal vanished from the governor's office under Mr. Lee, but whether because of the Mandel
connection or his own cool and ironic manner, helost when he ran for a full term in his own right.
Among the many useful things that he accomplished for the
state, the most important were in the field of education. Coming from the
county in the state, he improved and strengthened the formula for distribution of state funds, limiting the disparity between the quality of
schools in the most and least wealthy communities. It was a characteristically inconspicuous and important contribution to equality of
opportunity. After leaving the governorship he served on the board of regents of the University of Maryland, and persuaded the General
Assembly to set up the fund to augment the salaries of outstanding faculty there.
Maryland politics is a paradox. The most visible side of
it has repeatedly been spectacularly tawdry, and yet the state is notably
well run and
provides fine schools for its children. If you are looking for an explanation, you might usefully begin by considering the career of Mr. Lee, who
died last Friday at his home in Silver Spring.