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County's First African-American Executive, Wayne Curry, Dies

Former Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry, 63, has died from lung cancer. He was among the first African-American students at his grade school, and the first African-American to serve as county executive.

Former Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry, 63, has died from lung cancer. Credit: Screenshot from NBC Washington
Former Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry, 63, has died from lung cancer. Credit: Screenshot from NBC Washington

UPDATED at 3:20 p.m. with statements from area elected officials

Former Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry, 63, has died from lung cancer, WTOP reports.

He died Tuesday night at home, says NBC Washington. After he 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.

Curry, a 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. 

What They're Saying

Laurel Mayor Craig Moe:

“On behalf of the mayor and City Council, staff and residents of Laurel, we were saddened to hear the news of the passing of Former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry. To his family and friends you have our deepest condolences. Wayne Curry’s dedicated public service and legacy will live on in Prince George’s County, as well as his friendship and support to the City of Laurel.”

Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-5) statement:

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my friend, former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry. Throughout his life and career, Wayne fought for the county in which he was born and raised and that he loved so dearly. He presided over a transformation that has seen Prince George’s County recognized across the country as a great place to live and raise a family, as a collection of communities that see diversity as a rich asset, and as a source of economic vitality and growth that promotes a strong middle class.  Wayne never shied away from a fight when Prince George’s County’s future or its standing were on the line, and his passion for justice, equality, and opportunity continue to inspire those who call the county home. I was honored to work with him over the years as he advocated for a stronger, more prosperous, and inclusive Prince George’s County, and I join in mourning his passing and extending my condolences to his wife, Sheila, and their children, Julian and Taylor.” 

Bowie City Council Statement:

The Bowie City Council announced that it was saddened to learn of the passing of Wayne Curry, County Executive for Prince George’s County from 1994 - 2002. As the county’s first African American County Executive, Curry was a trailblazer and visionary, who moved the county forward.

“While we didn’t always see eye to eye on issues relating to Bowie, Wayne Curry was a dedicated public servant, who always wanted what was ultimately best for the residents of Prince George’s County. He worked hard to make others see the potential of this county,” said Mayor G. Frederick Robinson. And he said Curry “laid the groundwork for many of the positive things that have happened in this county since he left office.”

The City Council respected his resiliency and courage in facing lung cancer and offers its sincerest condolences to his family on their loss.

Statement from County Executive Rushern L. Baker III:

“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. 

This county and its residents owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude. He was a son of this great county and he was extraordinarily proud of it and devoted to it. He constantly reminded us how important his hometown was to the region, and to the nation, because it symbolizes what so many people dreamed could happen in America: an affluent majority African American jurisdiction. From National Harbor to FedEx Field, Wayne Curry laid the foundation for the Prince George’s County we know today.

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. I know the residents of Prince George’s County join me as we express our sincere sympathy to Wayne’s family and to his many friends who loved him so much.”

Statement of Senator Jim Rosapepe:
"Wayne Curry, my friend for 30 years, never forgot where he came from -- Prince George's County. And he never gave up on his dream of convincing the world outside its borders of its world-class people. Few people have achieved so much of their vision. Wayne was a game changer."
Yasmin Anderson-Smith July 03, 2014 at 01:38 PM
Deepest sympathies to the family and loved ones of former Executive, Wayne Curry. He leaves an indelible legacy of accomplishments not just for residents of Prince George County but for African Americans as a whole. May his untimely passing be taken as an opportunity to renew our commitment to community, leadership with integrity and support for our youth. Rest in peace Mr. Curry.

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