Wayne K. Curry, Prince George’s County’s first black county executive, died Wednesday at his home in Upper Marlboro after a battle with lung cancer. He was 63.
Mr. Curry spent two terms at the helm of Prince George’s County, overseeing the area’s development from 1994 to 2002 as it transitioned from a rural and white community into the most affluent majority-black county in the country. Prior to his election in 1994, Mr. Curry had worked as a development lawyer.
During his eight years in office — term limits prevented him from seeking re-election — Mr. Curry was credited with bringing financial discipline to the budget process. He arrived in 1994 to find a gaping budget deficit left by his predecessor, Parris N. Glendening, but managed to maintain support among residents even as he crafted a budget plan that slashed spending and imposed new taxes.
Mr. Curry won a regional battle when he persuaded Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke to build a professional football stadium to host his team in Landover and then stood firm to limit the county’s financial commitment to the project. The stadium opened in 1997.
Before his 1994 election, Mr. Curry had only dabbled in public service, working as an aide for former County Executive Winfield Kelly Jr. But the Prince George’s County native early on showed an interest in running for office. He recalled his first campaign was mounted in Bladensburg Junior High School when he ran for a class office, remembering the competition in a 1994 interview as the only race he ever lost.
“I lost by only one vote, or at least that’s what they said,” he told The Times. He had been one of about a dozen black students at the school. “I was just happy to have performed as well as I did.”
Prior to desegregation mandates in the county, Mr. Curry’s father, a school administrator, pulled him and his brother Daryl out of their all black elementary school and sent them instead to their neighborhood school in Cheverly, where they were two of three black students.
As county executive, Mr. Curry would guide the county through agreements that phased out court-ordered busing to desegregate schools in the county in an effort to return children to neighborhood schools.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley praised Mr. Curry for leading the county through “one of the most transformative periods in its history.”
“Over the course of the eight years we worked together, I witnessed his tireless advocacy on behalf of the people he served and his fearless efforts to advance causes beneficial to Prince George’s County and the African-American community statewide,” he said.
Though frequently mentioned as an attractive candidate, Mr. Curry did not run for higher office despite remaining active in county and state affairs.
Mr. Curry in recent weeks spoke publicly about his battle with cancer and acknowledged the toll it was taking on him. He disclosed in a television interview in May that he had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
In the interview with WUSA-TV, Mr. Curry said he hoped that by talking about his illness that he could convince other to quit smoking so that they would not suffer the same fate.
“I spent many years smoking a lot of cigarettes,” he said. “First and foremost, stop now if you can. If you can’t, get help to stop. Don’t do like I did and assume that you’ll be one of the lucky ones.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III in a statement praised Mr. Curry’s courage and his generosity and called his death a “genuine loss for Prince George’s County, the State of Maryland and the Washington Region.”