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Wayne Curry Eulogized as Giant Who Was 'Unafraid to Care'

A public viewing and funeral services were held Thursday for former Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry, 63, who died from lung cancer.

An honor guard carries the casket of the late Wayne Curry, former Prince George's County executive, to lie in state. Credit: PGCPD Twitter feed
An honor guard carries the casket of the late Wayne Curry, former Prince George's County executive, to lie in state. Credit: PGCPD Twitter feed
State and national politicians joined with Wayne Curry's family members and Prince George's County residents Thursday to recall the legacy left by the county's first African-American county executive.

Curry, 63, died July 2 from lung cancer. After a public viewing Thursday, his funeral service was held at the First Baptist Church of Glenardern in Upper Marlboro.

U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski told the crowd of mourners estimated at 2,000 that Curry was as horrified as she was when bureaucrats decided to build a barbed wire fence around a federal building in the county.

Mikulski said she told leaders at a meeting that she would "chain myself to the fence" to stop it from being built. Curry then chimed in with 'I'll hold the ladders, I'll get your bail bond...," reports WTTG TV.

Those gathered in the church burst into laughter during the story as Curry was remembered for his concern about the image of his home county.

Gov. Martin O'Malley told Curry's children their father made a difference. O'Malley called Curry "a giant" and "fearless," referring to the former executive as a man who was "unafraid to care."

Curry died at home, says NBC Washington. After he was diagnosed with lung cancer in August 2013, he worked to publicize the disparities of cancer treatment in the United States, and warned African-Americans about the dangers of smoking.

The Democrat was a real estate and corporate lawyer who became Prince George's first African-American county executive in 1994. He left office in 2002.

Current County Executive Rushern Baker III called Curry a personal mentor who embodied the American dream.

"As Prince George’s County’s first African American County Executive, he was a visionary who raised the standards for the county and its profile locally and nationally," Baker said.

The Washington Post reports Curry served two terms in the first metropolitan area in the country to shift from majority white to majority black population with income and education levels that increased.

He helped bring upscale development to the county and played a key role in persuading Jack Kent Cooke to build a new Washington Redskins stadium in Landover, but Curry refused Cooke’s demands that the county pay for the $175 million stadium. The state ultimately paid for the stadium costs, the Post says, which opened in 1997.

During his first trip to Wall Street as county executive Curry showed his tenacity when he tried to preserve the county’s bond rating even as it ran a $108 million budget deficit. The Post reports analysts applauded Curry’s presentation, but warned it was still possible the county’s rating would be downgraded.

“If you downgrade us, I’m going to The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and every other newspaper I can find, and I’m going to call you a straight-up racist,” Curry told the analysts, says the Post. “Because I’m fixing it, you applaud it, and you’re going to downgrade me instead of the guy that did it.”

Curry and his brother were two of the first African Americans to attend Cheverly-Tuxedo Elementary School, says NBC.

During an interview in mid-June with NBC Washington, Curry said his faith was strong despite the grim diagnosis.

"I prayed, consulted with God, I managed myself because I had to present my kids with the appropriate imagery with the challenge that beset me. The really compelling thing is that I wasn’t scared," Curry told NBC. 

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