Big Fish

Big Fish Q&A with Philosophical Mayoral Candidate Jody Landers


If anyone doubted Democratic mayoral candidate Jody Landers’ Baltimore bona fides–HARBEL executive director, City Council member, executive vice-president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors–then his recent experience as a victim of both crime and bureaucratic lassitude should cement his credentials.

A week before Landers announced his bid to lead the city this past April, some brazen perp stole his car (waiting outside) as he paid for its repairs inside an auto shop’s office. Hearing nothing from the city concerning his vehicle’s whereabouts for six weeks, Landers traced it himself to a municipal impound lot, where it had been languishing for 12 days. (Factotums there had failed to notify him of the car’s presence.) Insult to injury, Landers also learned that he was on the hook for tickets racked up by the thief: $75 for running a red light, $52 for parking.  

Raised in Hamilton, Joseph T. “Jody” Landers III, 58, has ping-ponged among posts in government, business, and civic/charitable affairs, while earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Morgan University in 1990. After working as an outreach counselor for Northeast Baltimore’s HARBEL Community Organization, he took over as the group’s executive director in 1977, overseeing programs in drug abuse prevention, mental health care, and youth employment training, among others.

Landers represented the 3rd District on the City Council from 1983 to 1991, establishing a reputation for fiscal responsibility, and, after losing a bid to become city Comptroller, served as executive director of the non-profit PACT: Helping Children with Special Needs and as director of fiscal affairs in the office of the City Council president. Until stepping down last month, Landers had led the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors for 13 years.

The father of three adult children, Landers lives with his wife in Lauraville.

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.

Be kind, do good work, and always remember that love is the most powerful force in the universe.

When did you define your most important goals, and what are they?

When I was a teenager, my father introduced me to the writings of the ancient Greek philosophers. As Socrates admonished his students to “know thyself,” I have been on a life-long quest to do just that. My mother always counseled her eight children to “play nice together and to follow our hearts,” and I have endeavored to follow her advice throughout my life. Lastly, I approach everything in life with the knowledge that we are all connected and we need each other.

What is the best advice you ever got that you followed?

To treat others with respect and kindness, and to remember to floss and brush my teeth every day.

The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?

To stay away from politics and to move out of the city. No! I did not follow this advice.

What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your lifetime?

1. What we see depends mainly on what we are looking for.
2. That the act of forgiving is as important for the person forgiving as it is for the person being forgiven.
3. That my attitude and expectations are just as important as the facts.
What is the best moment of the day?

The present moment.

What is on your bedside table?

I don’t have a bedside table. I put all my stuff on my bureau.

What is your favorite local charity?

Two: Viva House and Habitat for Humanity.

What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing?
Think big and have a grand vision, but be prepared to take small steps and keep trying until you get it right.

Why are you successful?

Because I realize that my success hinges on others being successful also.

When out-of-town friends visit Baltimore, what one indispensable local activity–attraction, restaurant, historic site, etc.–do you insist they see or hear or participate in before leaving?

We are most likely to take guests hiking at one of the many parks and reservoir properties that are in the city or in the Baltimore region.

Did you bowl duckpins as a kid growing up here? If so, were you in a league? What was your “home” lanes?

Yes, I did bowl duckpins. My very first duckpin bowling experience was in the basement of the Hamilton Recreation Center, where bowlers would have to take turns setting the pins. I was amazed the first time I saw an automated pin-setting machine. I was never in a league, but one of my younger sisters has been in a league for the past 15 to 20 years.

If elected mayor, what item will be foremost on your agenda–the specific initiative you immediately strive to accomplish?

I would take the lead in demonstrating to Baltimore citizens and city employees that public service means what it says, and that each and every person has an important role to play in making Baltimore better.

This is the first in a series of Baltimore Fishbowl interviews with Baltimore’s mayoral candidates. 

Big Fish Q & A With Collector, Designer and BMA Trustee Stiles Colwill


If you subscribe to the concept of predestination – a phenomenon immune to scientific scrutiny – then, perhaps, you could make the argument that Stiles Colwill’s given name ordained him to a career in design and connoisseurship, and to an avocation as an art collector. (Of course, you’d need to fudge his name’s spelling a trifle.) 

As founder and proprietor, he oversees the Lutherville-based Stiles T. Colwill Interiors, designing living spaces for local and out-of-town clients, while also operating Halcyon House Antiques and working as a partner with prominent New York City antiques firm John Rosselli & Associates.

Not incidentally, he has served on the Baltimore Museum of Art’s board of trustees since 1995, presiding as its chairman until last week when he stepped down after five years. Previously, he spent 16 years at the Maryland Historical Society, starting as an associate curator and concluding his tenure there as its director.

Colwill was born in Baltimore and raised on bucolic, 122-acre Halcyon Farm in Greenspring Valley, where for decades his family bred thoroughbred racehorses (his father, J. Fred Colwill, rode Blockade to win the Maryland Hunt Cup in 1938, 1939, and 1940). Stiles Colwill, 59, only recently discontinued the breeding operation, but he still lives at Halcyon, along with his life and business partner of more than 20 years, Jonathan Gargiulo, plus a menagerie of horses, cows, and dogs. The pair maintains elegant gardens and a home chock-ablock with early American paintings, Maryland decorative arts, and 19th century French bronzes.

Although he has stepped down as BMA board chair, Colwill continues as a board member, helping to shepherd the museum’s fundraising campaign and physical renovations. “Stiles’ dedication to the BMA is remarkable,” notes museum director Doreen Bolger. “He has left a huge mark on this wonderful institution.”      

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence. 

When I look at my glass, it is always more than half full.

When did you define your most important goals, and what are they? 

Many people set goals for themselves; I didn’t really. I just always wanted to give back: to my parents, friends, and the community. So rather than goals, I have had rules to live by that were instilled in me when I was very young. One is from McDonogh’s lower school poem: “Be the best of whatever you are.” Another is from my father: “Always be kind to others.” And a third is from my mother: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

What is the best advice you ever got that you followed? 

It came from my grandfather Tuttle when I spent a summer with him at about age eight: If you want it, go after it. You can do or be anything that you want. All you have to do is try. 

The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?

I guess that I have been very lucky and never been given any bad advice.
What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your lifetime? 

While I was not “surprised” by them, I know these to be true and live by them:

Don’t judge a book by its cover, especially when it comes to people.
Always be yourself.
Never look back – you cannot change the past.

What is the best moment of the day? 

First light on the farm. It is amazingly beautiful.

What is on your bedside table? 

First, let me say something about the table itself. It came from Andy Warhol’s estate sale, and it was his bedside table before it was mine. I remember seeing it in his house years ago, and it serves as a wonderful souvenir of my time living in New York City. The table always makes me smile and wonder, “What would it say if it could talk?”

On it is a silver cigar box that was the rider’s trophy for the 1938 Maryland Hunt Cup, given to me by my father. It was one of his most treasured possessions – and now, mine, too. Also, fresh flowers from our garden or an orchid from our greenhouse, plus stacks of recent books and trade magazines.

What is your favorite local charity?

The Baltimore Museum of Art.

What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing? 

Go for it.

Why are you successful? 

Hard work.

What is your favorite piece of artwork (painting, sculpture, installation, textile, furniture, whatever) in the BMA’s permanent collection — and why do you love it so much?

Many people do not recognize this as a work of art, but is it the biggest one in the collection: the magnificent, inspirational BMA building itself — perfectly designed by John Russell Pope. It affects every aspect of the BMA, and I always find new details in it every time that I visit.

What single thing could Maryland’s thoroughbred racing industry do to help save itself, rather than being repeatedly bailed out by taxpayers’ dollars?

The racetracks were successful when operated by great owners like brothers Ben and Herman Cohen (Pimlico) and John Schapiro (Laurel Park). Let someone who is passionate about racing – and deep-pocketed – take over the tracks. Maybe developer David Cordish; let’s see what magic he can make of them.
Tell us your most effective universal decorating tip, applicable to living spaces as diverse as urban loft to rural cottage to double-wide trailer to suburban mansion to stately manor.

Make it your own. Always have personal items around. Home is really a nest, and we are all nesters at heart. If you make it personal, you will always feel at home.

Q & A with Community Activist Sally Michel


Sally Michel believed in Baltimore long before such behavior was mandated by municipal bumper sticker. As one of the city’s pre-eminent cultural and educational activists, Michel has consistently channeled that belief into tangible results for a smorgasbord of worthy beneficiaries – the Abell Foundation, Fund for Educational Excellence, School for the Arts, Junior League, and Walters Art Museum, among countless others – that have significantly enhanced the quality of life in Baltimore. 

Michel also has played a quietly influential role in civic affairs, both publicly – she served for 10 years on the city’s Planning Commission, including a stretch as chair – and privately, as a staunch donor to the campaigns of local, state, and national Democratic candidates (William Donald Schaefer, Ben Cardin, Elijah Cummings, Maggie McIntosh, Barack Obama, et al.).

However, Michel is probably best known as the co-founder – and relentless shepherdess — of the Parks & People Foundation, the public/private organization, launched in 1984 with Schaefer’s benediction, dedicated to developing programs that seamlessly mesh environmental and educational initiatives. Accordingly, she created the group’s SuperKids Camp, which since 1997 has provided more than 17,000 city schoolchildren with innovative learning experiences via a fun-but-functional summer camp.

Michel, now 73, grew up in Virginia, attended Goucher College, and lives in Roland Park.    

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.  

Help us to remember that what we keep we lose, and only what we give remains our own.
When did you define your most important goals, and what are they? 

Goals are an ongoing process, but mine have always focused on children and the city environment. 
What is the best advice you ever got that you followed? 

My husband use to give my three daughters the following advice: be a lady, do things to make me proud, and, above all, think. We have all followed that advice. 
The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?

Vote Republican. I never have.
What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your lifetime? 

Friends and family are the key to everything. Eight grandkids are sheer joy. There are not enough hours in the day.    
What is the best moment of the day?

Two a.m. It’s quiet, the phone doesn’t ring, and I can get a lot of work done.
What is on your bedside table? 

Three alarm clocks.
What is your favorite local charity? 

The Parks & People Foundation, because it helps city children and parks.
What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing? 

Marry someone who will support you in all your ventures.
Why are you successful? 

What is your favorite Baltimore City vista? 

The view from my porch. I can see the Roland Park water tower and all the way down to the harbor.
What is the most difficult plant that you have successfully grown in your home garden? 

Does not apply – I have never grown a plant successfully. 
What attribute surprised you the most about William Donald Schaefer?

Despite his gruff exterior, he was a lovely, sweet man.

Q & A With US Congressman John Sarbanes


Elected in 2006 as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District (comprising parts of Baltimore City, plus portions of Baltimore, Howard, and Anne Arundel counties), John P. Sarbanes has established moderate-to-liberal political bona fides over his two-plus terms, focusing on health-care, education, and environmental issues. He voted for the landmark health-care overhaul, to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy regarding gays in the military, and against a bill that would have denied federal funds to Planned Parenthood.

Currently, Sarbanes sits on the Natural Resources and the Space, Science, and Technology committees, as well as on four subcommittees, notably the one overseeing national parks, forests and public lands.

Born and raised in Baltimore, Sarbanes graduated from Gilman in 1980, from Princeton University in 1984, and then earned a law degree from Harvard in 1988. He spent the next 18 years working as an attorney at Venable. (Oh, his first job: whipping up milkshakes at the Prevas Brothers stall in Fell’s Point’s Broadway Market.) 

His father, Paul, served as a U.S. Senator from Maryland from 1977 to 2007, exiting Congress just as John entered it. 

Married with three children, Sarbanes, who turned 49 on May 22, lives in Towson. 

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.

Treat people with respect and don’t get ahead of yourself. 

When did you define your most important goals, and what are they?

My most important personal goal is to provide for my family. I defined that when I got married and started a family. Beyond that, to be a good citizen who is contributing to my community in some way.

What is the best advice you ever got that you followed?

If something seems too good to be true, it is. 

What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered? 

I try not to be surprised by the truth.

What is the best moment of the day?

When I walk into my house at the end of the day.

What is on your bedside table?

The Collected Stories of James Thurber and The Collected Stories of J.D. Salinger.

What is your favorite local charity?

The Public Justice Center.

What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing?

Do the job you have well and the rest will take care of itself. 

Why are you successful?

If I’ve had success, I attribute it to being a good listener.

If Congress lifted its ban on earmarks for a day and permitted you to submit one piece of locally related legislation, what bill would you push for passage?

Sufficient funds to clean up Baltimore Harbor. 

What is your favorite film about American politics — and why?

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, because it shows you can be idealistic and also make a practical difference.

What music are you into right now that might surprise us?

I’m always into bluegrass.

Q & A With "Modern Family" Star Julie Bowen


We asked Modern Family star and Baltimore girl-done-good Julie Bowen (nee Luetkemeyer) a few questions about life, the secrets to her success and growing up in Baltimore (in Woodbrook). We learned the Brown University alum and mother of three is not wholly unlike the funny, self-deprecating, lovable character she plays on TV.

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.
If everyone gets to bed with a clean diaper and minimal whining, I win!

When did you define your most important goals, and what are they?
I thought my most important goals were career related, and in some ways they still are.  I love working and get (overly?) excited about new jobs and the opportunity to work with creative people.  Having three kids in two years, however, has forced me to shift a great deal of focus outside of myself and my own goals which is, frankly, much more healthy.

What is the best advice you ever got that you followed?
My parents told me to get an education, whether I “used” it or not, and I did.  It is still the greatest thing I have ever done even if I rarely dig out Neoplatonism in cocktail conversation.

The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?
The worst advice was never direct as much as it was implied.  Some people in my life kept saying I was “lucky” to get jobs, and I shouldn’t push my luck by asking for better salaries or even better jobs.  I spent a great deal of time undervaluing myself, and still feel I have to fight against this mentality as a default mode.

What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your lifetime?

  1. Kids are amazingly fun.
  2. Kids are amazingly hard.
  3. One person, place or thing will never meet all of your needs. Get a deep bench and keep expanding.

What is the best moment of the day?
5 a.m. Coffee, email, and a book before I go running.

What is on your bedside table?
Half a broken toy truck,  crosswords, three books to read and a picture of my dearly departed dog.

What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing?
Get used to hearing “no” and don’t take it personally.  Auditioning is a war of attrition, and if you can resist the urge to quit when you are sure you won’t get a job, you will eventually land on your feet.

Why are you successful?
Am I?  That’s hard to accept…I suppose I have success in acting because I really love it and didn’t look at my failures (there have been PLENTY) and rejections as deterrents.

What was the best thing about growing up in Baltimore?
The Orioles and lightening bugs.

What was the worst thing about growing up in Baltimore?
The humidity!

What do you miss most about Baltimore?
My parents and old friends like Lillie Stewart, Catherine Thomas and Emily Wilson….

What is the thing you must do/place you must visit when you are in Baltimore?
The Irvine Nature Center is the best.  My dad can’t survive without a trip to Tark’s (Grill).  And for culture, the Walters Art Museum is my favorite.

What is your favorite regional delicacy? 
Berger Cookies!!!!  Oh my god!  I always thought you could get those anywhere until I moved away from Baltimore.  What a horrible realization!

Eddie’s or Graul’s?
Graul’s!  The chicken salad alone is worth it.

The creator of “Modern Family” is also from Baltimore.  Do you two ever commiserate on the best and worst of Baltimore?  Did you know each other or any of the same people growing up?

Jason Winer (Friends School alum) directed Modern Family the first season and still has strong Baltimore ties.  We didn’t talk a whole lot of Baltimore, but whenever we did, we used the full-on Bawlmer accent, hon!