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Wayne Curry Remembered as a Visionary

Barrington M. Salmon | 7/7/2014, 10:05 a.m. | Updated on 7/9/2014, 3 p.m.
Condolences and accolades poured in for the man credited with transforming Prince George's County from a slow-paced, majority-white farming region ...
Wayne K. Curry, a successful corporate attorney, was the first African-American elected as executive of Prince George's County in 1994. (WI Archives)

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to refer to the late County Executive Wayne K. Curry as “Mr. Prince George’s County.”

Over the course of an estimated 40 years of public life, Curry embodied the finer qualities and fighting spirit of a county he resolved to pull into a position of leadership in the region.

Following his death on June 2 after a bout with cancer, condolences and accolades are pouring in for the man credited with transforming Prince George’s County from a slow-paced, majority-white farming region and D.C. bedroom community into the most affluent and educated majority-black county in the country.

Curry, 63, a corporate and real estate lawyer and political powerbroker, served two terms as county executive beginning in1994. He learned he had lung cancer last summer and following that revelation, Curry became an outspoken anti-smoking advocate, spreading facts about the dangers of smoking, the threat cancer poses to blacks, and publicizing cancer treatment disparities across this country.

Carolyn Mills Matthews, 52, said she’s lost a good friend and Prince George’s County has lost its most vocal and committed champion.

“Wayne was a savvy politician and a heartfelt politician. He’s one of the few politicians who cared about all of the people in Prince George’s County,” said Mills Matthews, who said she’d known Curry since the age of 21. “I will remember Wayne as a very strong advocate and a very caring and pragmatic negotiator for this county.”

“He was a very strong leader for people. He was one of those people anyone could talk to. Whether you were the president of the United States or a drunk, he could find common ground.”

Curry chose to run for county executive without ever having held elective office, and without the blessing or resources of a formidable Democratic machine. Upon winning, Curry became the first black county executive and the only black elected official leading any county in the United States.

Curry, a beloved figure, left an indelible footprint in the history of the county, implementing his far-reaching economic and community development vision. During his tenure, he spearheaded an explosion of upscale development; laid the initial groundwork for the largest commercial construction project in Maryland’s history, the National Harbor; and wrangled an agreement from Jack Kent Cooke, then-owner of Washington’s professional football team to move to Landover – without sacrificing a dollar of taxpayers’ money.

As brilliant as he was combative, people either loved or were repelled by Curry’s brashness and assertive nature. His primary focus, friends, associates and others said, remained on elevating Prince George’s County.

County Executive Rushern Baker III – a Curry successor once removed – as well as a protégé and close friend, spoke glowingly of him.

“For me, this loss is deeply personal. He was an amazingly generous friend, colleague and supporter. He was a mentor to me and to so many others,” he said. “The passing of Wayne K. Curry is a genuine loss for Prince George’s County, the state of Maryland and the Washington region. He was more than a great leader and iconic personality in this county. He was a tremendously courageous and truly remarkable person who touched and changed so many lives. 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.”