Thursday, March 11, 2010

on harry sanders (1946-2010)

I've worked alongside Harry Sanders for the past year as a staffer to Purple Line NOW! The last time I saw him was last Saturday at Suburban Hospital, when I came to videotape a short greeting from him for our Purple Line NOW! fundraiser later this month. It was assumed that he wouldn't be at the event, but no one would have guessed that we would lose him so soon.

I'm editing the video now. Harry is lying in the hospital bed, wearing a purple shirt with Purple Line NOW! memorabilia surrounding him. A bouquet of purple orchids is sitting on the table next to him. And the remarks he makes, prepared by his wife Barbara and son Greg earlier that day, begin "Daniel Burnham said, 'Make no little plans.'" He's incredibly weak. Harry has to force the words out of his mouth, and his voice disappears entirely on the word "said."

Barbara explained to me that, over thirty years ago, she and Harry had fought to bring the Green Line right into the center of the University of Maryland, despite fears from the administration and the city alike that it would "bring undesirables" into their community. While they lost that fight, they've never given up on improving transit all across suburban Maryland.

The Purple Line isn't a small plan. It's not hyperbole for me to say that it'll connect some of the poorest neighborhoods in the region with some of the most affluent communities in the nation. It'll hopefully alter the way we live, work and play in suburban Maryland. And, most admirable of all, it's already brought people together from different races, classes, backgrounds under these very auspicious goals.

Much of the praise Harry Sanders has received on Maryland Politics Watch has been about his work as a civic activist, but I think of him as so much more for that. In twenty-five years of pushing for what we now know as the Purple Line, Harry and his friends have done much more than civic activism. They aren't about protecting the status quo. They aren't about accepting things as they are. Their work reflects an optimism about the future - the possibility that we can make things better through our combined efforts - that people half their age have already lost.

I'm deeply saddened that Harry will never get to walk from his house to the future 16th Street Station and catch the Purple Line. It's imperative that we get it built now. Not just for all the people who will benefit from it, but for someone without whom it could have never even happened.

I'll miss you, Harry. I'm glad I got to see you one last time, and my hopes and prayers are with your family.


Melanie said...

I love the sentiment you put in to eulogize this man I never met. Despite all the gentrification clap-trap, I couldn't agree with you more that this Purple line will help a great deal in pulling together the poorer areas to the richer areas. I propose we name a station after him. RIP

WashingtonGardener said...

Harry fought such a long and dedicated fight. I'm determined that we will keep on fighting for the PL in his memory.

I agree on naming a station for him - perhaps the one that would be closest to where he lived near 2nd and Spring St.

Evan Glass said...

While Harry will be missed by all who knew him, his endeavors will be appreciated by all in our region.

A lovely tribute, Dan.

Cyndy said...

That was a beautiful tribute to a man who has worked so hard over the years to improve our community.

C. P. Zilliacus said...

Dan, I was shocked to hear of Harry's passing, as I had no idea he was even sick. Thank you for writing the nice tribute.

A remarkably decent fellow and someone who could discuss contentious matters in an honest way. Being (mostly) a highways guy in my personal life, I did not always agree with Harry, but I always enjoyed speaking with him and comparing notes on things.

Melanie and WashingtonGardener, I vigorously disagree with your suggestion regarding naming a station for Harry, but only because I have a better idea. Most transit stations that I have seen are static places. I am quite familiar with one that was named for the late Rosa Parks in Los Angeles County, Calif. at the junction of the Green and Blue (light rail) Lines, and I do not feel it is an especially good tribute to her. Instead of naming a station for Harry, why not name a rail vehicle in his honor? I have seen this done in two cities in Sweden: Stockholm (all of its Series C20 subway railcars have names) and Göteborg (English: Gothenburg) (where all streetcars have names, usually in honor of people with connections to the city). So let's ask the MTA to name a transit vehicle running on the Purple Line in his honor instead.

Greg Sanders said...

Thank you Dan for this touching tribute and for your hopes and prayers.

I will be eternally grateful for you making it out on a Saturday to take the video when the time was right.

WashingtonGardener said...

CPZ - I lik the train-naming idea - and I think Harry would as well being a big rail fan - I will pass it on