By Len Lazarick
It was an old-fashioned funeral service for an old-school lobbyist at the Old Wye Church in Talbot County Friday afternoon. More than 150 Annapolis insiders, family and friends bid adieu to Jeffrie Zellmer, 73, who represented the Maryland Retailers Association at the State House for the past 20 years.
Many in the crowd had been mentored or allied with Zellmer, a large man with a crusty good humor, quick wit and vast knowledge of the inner workings of the Maryland General Assembly.
He was recalled with special fondness by former Sen. Larry Levitan, who turned to lobbying around the same time as Zellmer and retired this year. Both could often be found during the legislative session at the regular table for lunch Jeff would chorale in the Senate canteen.
“Jeff ran all my campaigns,” said the Montgomery County Democrat first elected to the Senate in 1974, the year Zellmer ran for delegate and lost.
Levitan, 81, chaired the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee for 16 years till he lost his seat in 1994, and Zellmer was his chief of staff for much of that time.
Zellmer served as chair of the Montgomery County Revenue Board under County Executive Charles Gilchrist.
Affection from left and right
The breadth of Zellmer’s contacts and political reach was shown by other speakers. Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Senate Education, Health and Environment Committee that handles the scores of local liquor legislation, read a proclamation from the Senate. She also read a proclamation for Zellmer from Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who that morning had announced she wasn’t running for re-election.
(Two people who would like the job also showed up to honor Zellmer, City Councilman Carl Stokes and Senate Majority Leader Catherine Pugh.)
Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, D-Prince George’s, read the proclamation from the House of Delegates. She often found herself on the other side of issues from Zellmer, and she recalled warmly negotiating with Jeff over one of her first pieces of legislation, “a little bill” about retail gift cards — the crowd laughed, recognizing what a battle it had caused.
“It’s so hard to find someone who is honest,” said Peña-Melnyk. “He was such a wonderful man.”
House Economic Matters Chair Dereck Davis also attended the funeral. (Both Prince Georgians are running for Congress in the 4th Congressional District.)
Tom Saquella, long-time president of the retailers association who hired Jeff as its lobbyist, said he wished he had pushed Jeff to apply for the top job when Saquella retired a few years ago.
Sens. Addie Eckardt, R-Middle Shore, Jim Mathias D-Lower Shore, Ed Reilly, R-Anne Arundel, and Guy Guzzone, D-Howard, attended the funeral as did Dels. Steve Arentz, D-Queen Anne’s, Charles Barkley, D-Montgomery, Johnny Mautz, R-Talbot, Warren Miller, R-Howard, and former members of the House and Senate, along with many members of the lobbying corps and probably other legislators we missed.
Active in the historic parish
Jeff was a senior warden at the parish, the oldest Anglican church in Talbot County, originally built in 1721, according to a historical marker outside.
Restored in 1949, the small sanctuary has unusual enclosed high-backed pews in which congregants face each other on benches and a high pulpit hanging from the side of the church. Hanging from the choir loft is a huge wood carving of the British royal coat of arms upheld by a crowned lion and a unicorn.
Jeff’s cremains were carried by Rector Charles Osberger through the graveyard down to the church’s fairly new columbarium with a lone bagpipe playing Amazing Grace.
Jeff is survived by his wife Sharon; the couple were married at a ceremony in a Maasai village in Kenya during a safari there; daughters Elizabeth Lee and Courtney; grandchildren Bradley, Ryan and Patrick; sister Kathleen O’Toole Zellmer; stepchildren Will Powell and Danielle Powell; step grandchildren Kirsten, Paige and Tess.