Bill Driscoll, a City Hall staple who guided many, died in May. Photo at wake, from Macon Street Books.

He called me “Diablo,” and I called him “Magnifico.”

And the more I listened to, and, in time, practiced, the wise and gentle counsel of Bill Driscoll, the less of a devil I became.

As the Fleshtones proclaim in concert: “Not everybody’s Jesus …”

Between those poles — the corrugated tin roof of hell (across which my butt once bounced) and visions of the empyrean — Driscoll the Everyman did his life’s true work. All in the  beleaguered tabernacle he so loved, the City of Baltimore.

“The world will never be the same for me without Bill Driscoll,” said Frank G. Lidinsky, a childhood parishioner of St. Wenceslaus on Ashland Avenue who long ago bonded with Driscoll over a shared interest in politics and city life. Lidinsky is one of many who believed themselves Driscoll’s best friend while aware that the club added members by the day.

Whether sharing a table at the annual sour beef and dumpling supper at Zion Lutheran church across from his office at City Hall or listening to the latest travail over a hot dog on the corner, Bill ended each of our conversations the same way: “You’re a good man…”

And because Bill said it, I and hundreds of others believed it.

A lung transplant survivor, William Michael Driscoll died from complications of Covid-19 on May 15 at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where the operation was performed four years ago this month. He was 71 years old.

“The transplant gave him extra years to get to know his soon to be six-year-old granddaughter Devin,” said his wife Barbara Chapp Driscoll, the second Barbara that Bill married. The first, the former Barbara Scheler, grew up near him in Northeast Baltimore and is the mother of their daughters Moira and Shannon.

With a 1950s cowboys-and-Indians childhood at 5614 Winthrope Avenue off of Walther Boulevard, “Billy D ” was a proud son of Hamilton and a graduate of St. Dominic parish school on Harford Road where a memorial service was held on May 22.

“Bill,” said the Rev. Ty Hullinger, who presided at the funeral, “was a social poet.”

Driscoll was a natural, embodying the truest sense of what poetry once was and should forever be: oral, face-to-face, and lyrical in the distinct patois of the strange and beautiful hometown where he knew every neighborhood firsthand.

When you ran something by Billy Driscoll — whether you were an under-appreciated civil servant or a guy shaking so bad it was impossible to hold a cup of coffee — the answer was delivered in a story.

The stories about him are just as numerous and usually humorous — like his continued frustration in Budapest and Hungary after seeing “Cafe Americano” on a menu and being served something that was not.

“Bill rarely got irritated,” said his friend Pete Woolson, who traveled with Driscoll to Eastern Europe, Mexico, Argentina and Uruguay. “The waiter would bring it out and he’d say, ‘This isn’t American coffee.’

“I’d say, ‘Bill, do you think Italians visiting the United States believe Spaghetti-Os are pasta?’ He’d agree, order a cafe Americao at the next stop and get upset again.”

At a City Council meeting on May 17, members from across Baltimore paid tribute to Driscoll. Third district Councilman Ryan Dorsey, who represents the community where Bill grew up, said he made and received many calls mourning the loss.

One of those conversations was with William N. “Bil” Burgee of the city housing department. Driscoll was drawn to people like Burgee because, as he said about a wide range of people, “he knows things.”

It didn’t matter if that knowledge was inside baseball at City Hall — where he retired in 2015 as chief-of-staff to former Council president Jack Young — or the value of a letter opener shaped like General Grant’s sword.

“Billy Driscoll had a unique ability to relate to people both upstream and downstream,” said Burgee. “He counseled people at the lower ranks of city service as well as those [far above his rank] who respected his opinion.”

 To that end, said Burgee, Driscoll’s approach was “love and compassion and care.”

Liam Davis, Driscoll’s last protege, now holds Bill’s one time job as Legislative Affairs Manager in transportation. “Bill had the rare ability,” said Davis, “to make people better versions of themselves.”

There was  little judgement in Driscoll’s guidance, though at times it came with warnings gleaned from his own experience. One of his favorite aphorisms, which he said he learned from a nun in elementary school, was: A word to the wise is sufficient.

“Bill got me into the habit of picking up lucky pennies,” said Eric Mithen, a graphic designer now living in Anacortes, Washington and a companion to Woolson and Driscoll on trips abroad.

Legion are the once poor slobs restored to productivity who will testify that the luckiest penny to ever cross their path were the nickels in the penny loafers Driscoll wore without socks.

One afternoon, seeking Bill’s advice, the burly Mithen and bantam Irishman sat on a bench outside of the Maryland Science Center at the Inner Harbor.  Mithen doesn’t remember what problem du jour necessitated the discussion, only that something occurred that still brings a smile.

 “I remember telling Bill that if we sat there long enough the whole world would pass by. Immediately, Tony Bennett walks by. Bill recognized him and called out, ‘Che si dice, Mr. Bennett?’”

[In Baltimore, that translates into, “Wuz up?”]

The great crooner smiled his warm smile, waved and kept walking along the promenade with an attractive younger woman, said Mithen.

“It was a good day…”

Bill Drisoll’s life was divided into five primary areas with family at the pinnacle.

His political work began as an adolescent poll worker for former Maryland lieutenant governor J. Joseph Curran’s United Third District Democratic Club during the Kennedy Administration. Of equal passion was helping people, followed by travel, and perhaps his greatest avocation — flea markets and yard sales featuring goods of questionable value.

Woolson tells of discovering that his father’s monogrammed golf clubs somehow made their way out of Driscoll’s car, into a yard sale and then out to who-knows-where. Was he miffed? A bit, perhaps, but Woolson doesn’t believe it was with bad intent.

“When Bill was a bachelor he would invite us over for cookouts. He had me cutting tomatoes and onions with a two inch paring knife — your typical butter knife was sharper,” said Woolson.

“So I bought him a set of sharp kitchen knives. Two weeks later, he has another barbecue and asks me to cut some stuff up. I say, ‘Bill, where are those good knives I got you?’ He says, ‘you got me some knives?’ He sold them at a yard sale.”

And it was never about the money as Driscoll often gave away as much as he sold.

“He just liked buying and selling,” said Woolson. “It let him talk to people.”

Rafael Alvarez can be reached via