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July 9, 2012

Rest In Peace, Dale Driscoll

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Our journey through life is aided by those who help us when we need it most, even if we don't realize it at the time.


Back in 2001, I was serving as a member of the Board of County Commissioners. While trying to decide whether to seek a full four-year term, a flap arose over the legislative redistricting map drawn by then-Gov. Parris Glendening.


Mr. Glendening had attempted a cartographic sleight-of-hand to draw the state prison system into a new single member House of Delegates district. While nowhere near as creative and manipulative as the recent redistricting by Gov. Martin O'Malley, this little trick was pretty slimy.


Mr. Glendening was trying to lay the groundwork for a future Democrat seat, hoping that unionized corrections officers would tend to support Democratic candidates in an otherwise conservative area.


Ultimately, the court decided that the Glendening Administration went too far. The district was drawn back, with the eastern portion being extended to just south of Frederick all the way over to Carroll County.


It mattered to candidates, the decision as to how much of the new district would be located in Washington or Frederick County. As it turned out, the district, as decided by the courts, slightly favored a well-known candidate from the southwest part of Frederick County.


It mattered to me because I lived in that area, had pretty good name recognition, and had long harbored a desire to do my part to make Maryland a better state.


While contemplating this political turn of events, an old friend and vanpool rider, Tom Mason, called me with an odd offer.


His good friend and co-worker, a lifelong Frederick County resident, was really interested in politics. Tom thought if I met and liked this guy, I'd be able use him on my campaign. Recognizing how hard it is to find motivated and committed volunteers, we set a meeting for a few weeks later.


The meeting took place in my Winchester Hall office in Frederick. This burly little dude strode through the door and changed my life forever.


We were the perfect political Yin/Yang. Dale Driscoll was brash where I'm cautious, confident where I'm reticent and confrontational where I'm consensus-driven.


Similarly, Dale shunned the spotlight where I'm comfortable being out front; he was always best suited to being the strategist, not the candidate.


We both served in the U.S. Navy, and were both members of the Submarine Service. That bond alone defines a man and creates a subliminal relationship that suggests safety, stability and strength in numbers, all essential elements of a political campaign.


I loved him from the moment I met him. In his first sentence to me, within minutes of making my acquaintance, he told me I'd "better get off my ass" and get a campaign going.


If that was an inauspicious start, the ride only got better. And ride is the right way to describe it, for anyone who knew Dale really well knew that they were in a roller coaster of thrills and fun.


He had more energy than anyone I've ever met, and unlike most of the rest of us, his goal was to make sure those around him were having fun. Laughter was the fuel that fired Dale's inner machine.


He could also be compassionate and caring in more subtle tones, too. Many times, unbeknownst to me, he'd call my wife and make sure she was bearing up under the stress of a campaign. She still mentions how comforting those calls were, since spouses get the worst of a political campaign. They hear the same criticism of their spouse by opponents, often outright lies, and then they hear the griping from the candidate themselves.


So together, Dale and his candidate ran two very successful political races, winning both times with comfortably wide margins.


Through the rough-and-tumble of politics, a friendship was forged with an unbreakable bond. Long evenings of pouring over voter statistics, long weekends of knocking on strangers doors, and long days working polling places.


We did it all. We met people from all over the state, and we even got to rub elbows with national political figures. One night, we were invited to the estate of Ed St. John, a well-known commercial real estate developer to meet with then-Gov. Bob Ehrlich and America's mayor, Rudy Giuliani.


Dale was in his essential element; you wouldn't have known we were just two guys from humble backgrounds that didn't belong. Dale worked the room like a savvy operative, whispering to and advising everyone he met.


It wasn't just my campaigns, either. Once Dale got the bug, it fully infected him. He advised a number of candidates, for local, state and federal office. He helped run Frederick Mayor Randy McClement's successful campaign, and then led the transition effort for the new administration.


He advised the Michael Steele senatorial campaign, and he hated those puppy ads they ran. He told them that, too.


He also helped some campaigns that weren't successful, and he wore the pain of those losses as much as the candidates themselves.


The last few years were tough on Dale and his beloved family. He suffered from some complicated internal illnesses, the most recent bout of pancreatitis kept him in Georgetown University Hospital from before Christmas until he left us forever the last week of June.


I was in Ocean City attending the Maryland Municipal League conference when I heard of his passing. It was a gut punch, in spite of the length of his hospitalization. His sweet wife Dea had been keeping a circle of friends updated on his condition, and we all prayed and believed he'd find the will to fight on.


While Dale loved politics (and winning), he loved his family like no man I have ever met. He was dedicated to Dea and their beautiful daughter Hannah. He worked hard to provide for them in all things. He dealt with the brutal commute to Washington each day, providing for his family.


He spoke often of their vacations to Deep Creek Lake, one of his most favorite places. You can measure a man that way. In spite of meeting powerful people, running kick-ass campaigns, building successful businesses and lobbying Congress, Dale wanted most to talk about Hannah's band competitions or their family vacations.


My life was enhanced and enriched beyond description for having Dale Driscoll as a part of it. In fact, anyone who got to know him sensed that as well.


I suppose God was in need of some hotshot political advice from an honest, decent, enthusiastic yet foul-mouthed strategist. I can picture him in Heaven, wearing his sunglasses and black brimmed hat, leaning over the table saying: "Well dude, if you really want it, you'd better get off your ass and go get it."


I love and miss you, D2.


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