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Tom Clancy, dead at 66, was an unlikely Baltimore booster

October 2, 2013

Tom_Clancy_at_Burns_Library_croppedThomas Leo “Tom” Clancy, Jr., a Baltimore boy from the start, died last night at Johns Hopkins Hospital from a so-far undisclosed medical condition. The 66-year-old author, a top seller since the overnight sensation of 1984’s The Hunt for Red October, was a friend of Hopkins. In 2005, having already given Hopkins millions of dollars, Clancy endowed an ophthalmology professorship at Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute.

Clancy’s support for Hopkins is not surprising – the hospital’s care for the rich and famous often leads to checkbooks being opened. But as a prominent conservative who liked the idea of limited government, one would expect Clancy to be a vocal iconoclast in Baltimore, a left-wing haven of urban Democrats. While Clancy’s anti-government disposition did not extend to the national-security arena – after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, for example, he famously blamed leftist politicians for the horror, saying they’d made the country vulnerable by neutering the Central Intelligence Agency – it had little patience for the regulatory indulgences for which governments are often maligned.

Yet Clancy invested here, in liberal Baltimore – where he went to high school at Loyola Blakefield and was an undergraduate at Loyola College – with little to no public controversy.  Since 1993, he was part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles, and in 2009 and 2010 he purchased a series of penthouse condominiums at the Ritz-Carlton Residence on Key Highway.

Having paid about $15 million for the penthouses, Clancy’s annual tax bill came to almost $350,000 – though, like many Baltimore homeowners, it’s not clear that his regular contributions to city coffers provided the returns he would have liked. For instance, Clancy, a famous gun enthusiast and lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, reportedly wanted to build a gun range in his penthouses – a proposal that would have required negotiating a minefield of local ordinances. It’s not clear that it ever happened.

Clancy did build a gun range at his Calvert County home overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, though, and that’s likely the place where he kept the Sherman tank his then-wife gave him years ago. At that abode, Clancy ran afoul of state regulators, though. According to a Calvert County legislator speaking at a 2003 Maryland General Assembly hearing about the state’s Critical Areas Act, which intends to help save the bay’s waterfront from over-development, Clancy violated the act by clearing trees down to the waterfront and “got a tiny little fine.”

There were no such Clancy controversies here in Baltimore – though some may wish he had stirred up a few over the long-suffering Orioles’ struggles on the field under their micro-managing majority owner, Peter Angelos. But with Clancy’s passing, Baltimore is losing a refreshing reminder that local loyalties can, thankfully, prove stronger than fundamental clashes of ideology.