Dagger readers may remember the family of Lynne Parry. Her husband, Baltimore County Police Detective Sergeant Mark Parry was tragically killed in the line of duty in 2002. As police survivors, Lynne’s children qualified for the state-funded Edward T. Conroy Memorial Scholarship, which offsets the cost of college tuition for the families of fallen heroes in Maryland. But last year, the money for the Conroy Scholarship ran out and Lynne’s son was one of 40 qualified applicants put on a waiting list. It was discovered that her husband also suffered from brain injury. That’s why they also needed the legal of help of a brain injury lawyer.
Lynne was frustrated by the sad competition for financial assistance occurring among equally deserving families. So she contacted her state legislators for help.
In the meantime, Lynne’s plight was reported on The Dagger. Her story then caught the attention of other media and shortly thereafter, Governor Martin O’Malley identified enough funding for all 40 survivors on the waiting list for the Conroy Scholarship, Lynne’s son included.
But Lynne Parry wanted a permanent solution, for her own family and for others like them.
So she researched similar financial aid programs in other states and urged delegates representing Harford and Baltimore Counties to come up with a plan for Maryland. The result was HB 710, The Edward T. Conroy Tuition Waiver Program. As the name implies, the bill would replace a rationed scholarship fund with a tuition waiver for any qualified survivor pursuing higher education at a Maryland public school.
The bill is sponsored by Baltimore County Delegate Susan Aumann (Dist 42) and co-sponsored by Harford County Delegates Susan McComas (Dist. 35B) and J.B. Jennings (Dist. 7) all of whom helped Parry last year. Other local co-sponsors include Delegate Mary-Dulany James (Dist. 34A) and Delegate Pat McDonough (Dist.7). The bill has also been cross filed as SB 802 and Senator Nancy Jacobs (Dist. 34) has signed on as a co-sponsor. But passage is far from a done deal.
So Lynne plans to make the drive down to Annapolis today to deliver the following testimony in support of HB 710.
Here is her testimony:
Chairmen Hixson and Conway and members of Ways and Means and Appropriations Committees:
Please accept my sincere appreciation for your role in Maryland Government and your attention today. I am here today to shed some insight as to how the current Conroy scholarship fund works versus the proposed HB 710. Please bear in mind I am speaking only in reference to the Public Safety component of this bill.
Where to begin-my loving husband Mark was a Baltimore County Police Detective Sergeant working out of Towson when a drunk driver hit him. Mark worked as an undercover detective at the time but agreed to fill in for some vacationing supervisors during the Christmas holidays. On December 27, 2001 Mark was hit, while on duty, by a drunk driver with a suspended license, and was critically injured. Mark had been on duty for less than an hour when hit. Our three children, (ages 14, 12 and 10) at the time, and I, prayed and tried to stay hopeful for Mark’s complete recovery and if not that, then at least a partial one. You see Mark’s entire left side of his body was broken and he also had a traumatic brain injury. He underwent several emergent procedures, but unfortunately died 25 days later on January 21, 2002. I know there are horrible and senseless tragedies everyday and won’t go into any more specifics of the criminal aspect of this crime, but I know that Mark would have wanted us to push on and live our lives to the fullest. Quite frankly I see this as our best way to honor his life.
During Mark’s 16 ¾ years with the Baltimore County Police Department Mark always enjoyed what he did, was proud of his work and believed he made a difference. Mark would mention to me after attending mandatory in-services that if anything ever were to happen to him in the line of duty one way the State acknowledged this sacrifice was to award the surviving children “free college” at a Maryland 2 or 4 year/Public State College. At the time I never gave it much thought, after all this was something that didn’t concern our family. How wrong I was. After Mark’s sudden and cruel injury and subsequent death you can only imagine the challenges- trying to help our children and planning a funeral were just the beginning. During that time both my friends and family were told repeatedly “At least Lynne won’t need to worry about College for their kids”.
My brother gets irate when he reflects on how misinformed the police and political leaders were about this “State benefit”. I soon discovered that a Line of duty (LOD) death does not provide a guaranteed educational benefit for Maryland survivors but instead offers a Scholarship fund. The current Edward T. Conroy is set up as a fund that all eligible candidates have to compete for. There is no assurance that candidates will receive it and furthermore they are not guaranteed the amount indicated (which is tuition and fees equivalent to no higher than the highest State schools’ tuition and fees). Often what funds are left is rationed to the remaining candidates. The current funding has not kept up with the demands of the Conroy. The year Mark died there were 60 Edward T. Conroy scholarships awarded, last year there were to be 119.
It was during the college application process with my oldest child when I discovered the Conroy was a limited scholarship fund and not a tuition/fee waiver as I had assumed. I called the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) when Kevin was a junior for clarification. They told me I had been misled. The FOP and others who told me about this “State benefit” also believed it was a waiver. In fact even today when I tell police officers about why legislative changes are indicated, they laugh in disbelief and tell me I am not looking at the right bill, and for me to call the State FOP. When Kevin and I completed the Conroy application process in May of 2005 we waited hoping for the best. In the meantime I shared what I had been told by MHEC as to how the Conroy is administered, to co-workers of Mark’s from the FOP Lodge #4; they contacted representatives in Governor Ehrlich’s administration for clarification. Once they understood the facts, they apologized for the misunderstanding and said they were embarrassed it was being handled this way. Somebody stepped in and re-appropriated funds so Kevin would receive the benefit. Then last August, our middle child, Danny, who had applied well in advance of the application deadline, was informed that he and 39 others were on a waiting list due to insufficient funds. Believe me I appreciate that Maryland has funding issues-we are not alone- and I try to follow legislation closely, attempting to understand where State funds are being allocated. In particular knowing that the State has considered granting in State tuition for illegals. But imagine surviving the very public death of your dad, being told your dad died a hero, that people won’t forget…being told people will remember that he died while working to protect the citizens of Baltimore County and Maryland, then to be told, no, sorry although you applied it time and met the specific criteria that there is just not enough money because there is too many of you. I was extremely disappointed when it happened this past fall. With much support from one of my delegates, JB Jennings, also Senator Harris and Delegate McComas, and eventually Governor O’Malley this shortage of funds was corrected and all 40 on the waiting list were granted their awards for an additional cost of only $130,000.00. But I am frustrated that my family has to fight this battle each time. Not all surviving families are going to have the will to do this, nor should they have to.
The current Conroy Scholarship eligibility is broad and has been included in the proposed bill, but its intent appears primarily to help survivors of service related deaths or disabilities. (Eligible candidates are from armed forces, 911, POW’s and public safety). Today out of the current 153 recipients only 22 are from public safety, less than 15% of the recipient pool. I can only speak for us and do not want to imply that I think our need is any more deserving than the other eligible candidates. If HB 710 is approved then the cost of Conroy will be distributed to the respective Maryland state colleges. I believe this is the original intent of the Conroy; it helps keep the student in Maryland, at a Maryland college and allows the school to absorb the cost. Similar to the same benefit an employee of a Maryland State college receives. A tuition/fee waiver makes sense, which is why I hope all of you see it this way too. This is also in line with what other nearby States (including Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia) provide for their surviving family members of a LOD death. (For verification of these facts go to http://www.nationalcops.org/deathbenefits.htm)
A dear friend of mine said it well: “When we needed these public safety officers, these families gave us everything. When they need us, how can we tell them to take and number and get in line?”
Thank you again for your time and attention. I hope you will vote favorably for this bill.
Lynne E. Parry
Widow of Detective Sergeant Mark F. Parry
Baltimore County Police Department
If you can offer support for HB 710 and SB 802, Lynne asks that you please take a moment to contact your legislators today.