Former delegate was witness to county's transformation
When Lansdale G. Sasscer Jr. was elected to the House of Delegates in 1954, Route 301 was one of the busiest highways in the state, Langley Park was being developed into a residential community, the city of Bowie was known for being a stop on the railroad and the Capital Beltway and Interstate 95 had yet to be constructed.
Sasscer, a lifelong Upper Marlboro resident, said New York residents traveled Route 301 on their way to vacation in Florida.
"And the people with restaurants and shops on the southern side, they always did better than the ones on the north," Sasscer said. "You see, when [travelers] came back, they didn't have any money to spend."
As the oldest person who has held state office in Prince George's County, according to state leaders, Sasscer, 82, has a lot to share.
Last week, at a fundraising event for county delegation chairwoman Melony G. Griffith (D-Dist. 25) of Upper Marlboro, Sasscer received certificates of recognition for his years of service from county lawmakers.
"I had no idea that I would be part of the ceremony. It was truly an honor," the retired lawyer said. "They got nervous because I didn't RSVP until late."
Sasscer's roots in the county go deep. He is the son of Lansdale Ghiselin Sasscer, who served as state Senate president from 1922 to 1937 and also served as a U.S. congressman from 1939 to 1952. His family has lived in the Upper Marlboro area since the 1760s, when the family home he still lives in was built. His grandfather, Frederick Sasscer, was an editor and later owner of a local paper, The Enquirer — now named the Enquirer-Gazette and owned by Post-Newsweek Media, also the parent of The Gazette newspapers. In addition, a county building, street and area still bear the Sasscer family name.
"We like to think it's because we love it here, rather than not having any pioneer spirit," he said.
After serving in the Coast Guard during World War II and going to law school, Sasscer, a Democrat, decided to run for state office in 1954 at the age of 28. He was elected and was one of six delegates representing all of Prince George's. Today, the county has 23 delegates.
"There was a lot concern about growth. We grew a lot after World War II, and we wanted our school buildings to keep abreast of what was going on," he recalled. "I was young enough to have the energy back then."
During his two terms in the House, Sasscer's focus included getting money to build the major roads that now spin off the Beltway when it opened in 1964, working to establish the Maryland Port Authority in Baltimore in 1956 and working to end slot machine gambling in southern Maryland in 1957, which ran off the tourist trade it brought.
And he did it with grace, said current Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach, who has known Sasscer all his life through his family.
"He's a gentle, quiet man. A team-oriented man," Miller said. "He's been an outstanding Prince Georgian and he is the ultimate gentleman."
Greeting visitors at his family home off Old Marlboro Pike last week, Sasscer dons a dress shirt, blazer and khakis. He pauses before answering questions, hesitant to speak about current problems facing the county or the officials he knows. Instead, he focuses on what has remained the same.
"Well, there's always this," he says, pointing to the birds flying near his porch. "And the people who live here, they like living here. There's a community spirit that hasn't changed."
Griffith said she chose to honor Sasscer as a nod to the county's legislative legacies and to recognize the infrastructure his generation created that continues today.
"At a time when our country has been gaining on the foundations that were laid by men like Mr. Sasscer, it's important to look back," Griffith said. "For me, it's about going back and saying thank you."
After losing a bid for state Senate in 1962, Sasscer returned to the law practice he operated with his father and served on the board of the former Bank of Brandywine. His heart remains with southern Prince George's, which he notes he carried in his last election.
He retired more than a decade ago to spend more time with his wife, Anne, who he married 54 years ago. He credits his longevity to her.
"I was in my 70s. I didn't want to die with a lot of unfinished cases," he says, laughing. "If I'd known I'd be around this long, I might have [worked] a while longer."