Fond laugh­ter, not tears, at memo­rial for He­len Bent­ley

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Dresser

Mary­land gave He­len Delich Bent­ley a for­mal send-off Fri­day at two memo­rial ser­vices dom­i­nated by laugh­ter rather than tears.

Sev­eral hun­dred in­vited guests gath­ered at the Cruise Mary­land Ter­mi­nal in the He­len Delich Bent­ley Port of Bal­ti­more on Fri­day morn­ing to re­mem­ber the for­mer con­gress­woman, who died Aug. 6 of brain can­cer at age 92.

There were prayers. There were pa­tri­otic songs. But mostly there were He­len sto­ries.

There were sto­ries about her kind­ness, her gen­eros­ity and her ded­i­ca­tion to the port she cham­pi­oned for more than 70 years. There were sto­ries about her late-night phone calls, gruff voice and color­ful lan­guage. There were sto­ries about her dogs and how she some­times treated them with more kind­ness than she did the peo­ple she loved.

It was He­len Delich Bent­ley, un­var­nished, from

peo­ple who adored her.

“There truly was never any­one like He­len Bent­ley, and she was one of a kind,” said Gov. Larry Ho­gan, who told the story of her rise from a rookie re­porter cov­er­ing the water­front for The Bal­ti­more Sun to a five-term mem­ber of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Ho­gan said that early in her ca­reer, Bent­ley con­fronted a “glass ceil­ing.”

“She smashed though it like a wreck­ing ball,” he said. “She was as tough as nails, and she wouldn’t back down.”

Sen. Bar­bara A. Mikul­ski, Bent­ley’s long­time con­gres­sional col­league and friend, spoke of a woman who was on a first-name ba­sis with her city and state.

“She was sim­ply He­len. She didn’t need a last name,” said Mikul­ski, a Demo­crat who worked closely with Bent­ley, a Repub­li­can, on is­sues af­fect­ing the port of Bal­ti­more. “When you said, ‘I got a call from He­len,’ ev­ery­body knew what that was.”

Mikul­ski re­called a meet­ing she and Bent­ley held with a colonel from the Army Corps of En­gi­neers about a port-re­lated is­sue. When Mikul­ski de­scribed Bent­ley mak­ing a “quiet, re­fined” ap­peal to the of­fi­cer, the crowd burst into laugh­ter.

The re­sult of that ap­peal, Mikul­ski re­called, was that the colonel called his gen­eral to ask per­mis­sion to ei­ther give Bent­ley and Mikul­ski what they wanted or be trans­ferred to a war zone.

“She was the He­len that launched a thou­sand ships,” Mikul­ski said.

David Blum­berg, a long­time friend who spoke on be­half of Bent­ley’s fam­ily, re­called in­ter­view­ing with her when he ap­plied for an in­tern­ship at the Fed­eral Mar­itime Com­mis­sion, which Bent­ley headed.

Bent­ley’s ques­tion, he said, was: “What candy-ass pri­vate school did your par­ents pay for?”

James J. White, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the port, said Bent­ley was an “in­cred­i­ble force for us.” He said other port di­rec­tors from across the United States were en­vi­ous that Bal­ti­more had such an ad­vo­cate.

“We were the only port in the United States that had a re­source like He­len Bent­ley,” he said.

Like other speak­ers, he told a story of Bent­ley’s brusque tele­phone man­ners. He re­called re­ceiv­ing a 3 a.m. phone call from Bent­ley, who was in Switzer­land.

She wanted to know the name of a busi­ness contact. He told her. Click.

Even the clergy had ir­rev­er­ent sto­ries to tell.

Mon­signor John L. FitzGer­ald, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Apostle­ship of the Sea, re­counted his dis­cus­sion with Bent­ley about what her memo­rial would be like.

FitzGer­ald said he told her: “I don’t know if I can give a bless­ing at your fu­neral. I think I’m sup­posed to give an ex­or­cism.”

When the memo­rial ended, Bent­ley’s ashes were car­ried from the ter­mi­nal to a nearby tug for her last cruise. She was go­ing to Fort McHenry for a pub­lic memo­rial ser­vice in the af­ter­noon. Sgt. Christo­pher Lamb of the Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Author­ity Po­lice car­ries the urn con­tain­ing the ashes of He­len Delich Bent­ley to the memo­rial cel­e­bra­tion at Fort McHenry Na­tional Mon­u­ment and His­toric Shrine.

More than100 peo­ple gath­ered at the fort un­der bright blue skies, a day Bent­ley might have or­dered up her­self.

They heard a bi­par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal duo — for­mer Repub­li­can Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Demo­cratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Rup­pers­berger — spin Bent­ley yarns.

Ehrlich de­scribed how he pulled off a sur­prise at the 300th an­niver­sary of the port by an­nounc­ing the state would name it af­ter Bent­ley.

“I got her,” Ehrlich said. “She shut the hell up for al­most a week, which for me was a win-win.”

Ehrlich also re­called the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Bent­ley and the late Demo­cratic Gov. Wil­liam Don­ald Schaefer, a staunch friend de­spite oc­ca­sional shout­ing matches.

“The lan­guage would make a sailor blush,” Ehrlich said.

Rup­pers­berger de­feated Bent­ley when she at­tempted to re­gain her 2nd Con­gres­sional District seat in 2002 — her last run for of­fice. He said she quickly be­came a friend and a men­tor. He de­scribed what hap­pened when the Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle Ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced plans to is­sue a li­cense plate com­mem­o­rat­ing the port’s 300th an­niver­sary.

“I’m tak­ing plate 300 and you’re tak­ing 299, and you’re go­ing to like it,” Rup­pers­berger said in a spot-on im­i­ta­tion of Bent­ley’s grav­elly voice.

Rup­pers­berger said it was be­cause of Bent­ley’s fore­sight that the port has the 50-foot-deep chan­nel that is con­sid­ered key to its cur­rent pros­per­ity.

“She truly was the queen of the port,” he said. “She was a tiny woman but she was as mighty as the ships at its docks.”

Bent­ley will be in­terred along­side her late hus­band, Wil­liam Bent­ley, at Du­laney Val­ley Memo­rial Gar­dens. Mem­bers of the Coast Guard fold an Amer­i­can flag to pre­sent to Molly Re­gan, a great­niece of He­len Delich Bent­ley, shown in front row left. Gov. Larry Ho­gan presents the Mary­land flag to Re­gan dur­ing the pri­vate ser­vice at Cruise Mary­land Ter­mi­nal.

KIM HAIRSTON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

U.S. Sen. Bar­bara A. Mikul­ski, cen­ter, and oth­ers laugh as James White, Mary­land Port Ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, shares sto­ries about He­len Delich Bent­ley dur­ing a memo­rial ser­vice Fri­day at the Cruise Mary­land Ter­mi­nal.

He­len Delich Bent­ley

KIM HAIRSTON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN PHO­TOS

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