William E. Hanna Jr., a former Rockville mayor and longtime member of the County Council who is credited with helping to foster the county’s biotechnology industry and championing the arts and affordable housing died on Saturday.
The Rockville City Council honored Hanna, who would have turned 90 years old on Jan. 25, with a moment of silence during Tuesday’s meeting.
“He was quite a treasure to the city and will be surely missed,” Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio said, recalling that it was Hanna who decided that the city should have an identity.
“[He was] truly responsible for our—well I guess that you’d call it our logo, our seal, for our flag,” Marcuccio said. “He’s the one that decided we need a bird, which we have: The Rock Hawk. I don’t even know that bird really exists, but he insisted it did.”
Councilman Piotr Gajewski remembered Hanna as “a great supporter of the arts.” Gajewski, the music director and conductor of the National Philharmonic, said he worked "extensively" with Hanna when Hanna was a Montgomery County Councilman.
“Without his support the culture in this county would not be where it is today,” Gajewski said. “He was really a pioneer in a fashion and also just the No. 1 supporter of the arts in the county for many years.”
Marcuccio remembered speaking with Hanna when she first wanted to get involved with city government, eventually becoming a member of the city’s housing authority.
“He really inspired a lot of people to come and do things for the city,” said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville, who lived six doors down from Hanna in the Woodley Gardens neighborhood.
Hanna, who was elected to the City Council in 1968 and served as mayor from 1974 to 1982, saw the city through a time of transition, Forehand said.
“The city really started to blossom and get the national reputation when he was on the [City] Council.”
That national reputation included Rockville twice being named an All-America City by the National Civic League while Hanna was mayor.
Outside of politics, Hanna was a senior official with the federal Social Security Administration and with NASA.
“He was a professional’s professional,” Forehand said. “He knew business and he knew how to organize things and how to pull people together. He inspired people to come and serve on some very serious boards and commissions.”
It was Hanna who appointed Forehand to a commission that rid the city of billboards, she said. The two later worked together to establish the Rockville Senior Center in their neighborhood.
“People had such great respect for him that if he thought something was a good idea he could bring them along,” Forehand said.
Hanna’s ability to convey his vision carried over to four terms on the County Council where he fought to reserve farmland to the west side of Interstate 270 for science and biotechnology companies.
"Bill Hanna was a great public servant,” County Council President Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said in a statement. “As a member of the Montgomery County Council from 1982 to 1998, he was a leader in fields ranging from economic development to the arts. The county's top ranking in biotech, in particular, owes much to his vision.”
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who served with Hanna, a Democrat, on the County Council for 12 years, called Hanna a “good friend” whose “character and integrity were beyond reproach.
“He always spoke his mind,” Leggett said. “His word was his bond.”
“Bill pioneered the county’s investment in life sciences which directly led to our preeminent position as one of the world’s leading biotech centers,” Leggett said. “He was a ferocious proponent for the arts and humanities, understanding full well how the arts enrich us all. He was an early champion of affordable housing.”
Hanna is survived by his wife of 62 years, Annette; seven daughters; 15 grandchildren and two great-granddaughters. He was predeceased by a grandson, William.
Visitation will be at St. Mary's Catholic Church, 520 Veirs Mill Road, in Rockville from 3 to 5 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday. A funeral mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Friday at St. Mary’s. Both are open to the public.
Hanna, a World War II veteran, will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors at a later date.