Sunday, January 13, 2008

BALTIMORE (AP) — State Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt, a Democrat from Prince George’s County who served in the Senate since 2003, has died. She was 66.

Mrs. Britt’s husband, Travis Britt, said she died early yesterday morning, apparently from heart failure or stroke, while being admitted to Doctor’s Community Hospital in Lanham, according to news reports.

“Today, Maryland lost one of its brightest civil rights leaders,” Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said in a statement issued yesterday afternoon. “Senator Gwen Britt was a principled, active and fair-minded voice for equality.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. called her death a “tremendous loss not only to her family, but to our family in the state Senate, her constituents in Prince George’s County, and to the state of Maryland.”

“Her dedication to public service, leadership on issues such as education, health care, and civil rights was unmatched, and her reputation as a consensus-builder will be greatly missed,” he said.

Funeral arrangements are pending, said Lisa Fulton, a spokeswoman for Mr. Miller, Southern Maryland Democrat.

“She was one of the most honest people you’d ever meet,” Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a fellow Democrat, said in a statement. “She was devoted to the county and to civil rights and she made a big difference in Prince George’s County.”

Mrs. Britt was first elected in 2002 after retiring as a human resources manager for Giant Food. Last year, she was elected chairwoman of the Prince George’s County legislative delegation. She also served as assistant deputy majority leader.

She was a lead Senate sponsor on a bill that granted voting rights to ex-felons and was expected this year to sponsor a bill that would legalize same-sex “marriage.”

Delegate Jolene Ivey, Prince George’s Democrat, said Mrs. Britt’s commitment to homosexual “marriage” showed she wasn’t afraid to take on tough issues.

“She looked at that issue and said the right thing to do is the same thing we asked for in the ‘50s and ‘60s” to gain equal rights for blacks, Mrs. Ivey told WTOP-103.5 FM radio.

A veteran of the 1960s civil rights movement, Mrs. Britt spent 40 days in jail for sitting in a whites-only train station waiting room in Mississippi. She was also arrested for trespassing after she and four other blacks sat on the merry-go-round at Glen Echo Park, which was segregated at the time.

Mrs. Britt is the second member of the General Assembly to die suddenly in the past two months. Delegate Jane Lawton, 63, Montgomery Democrat, died in November of an apparent heart attack.

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