Bruce Romer, a Bethesda resident who served as Montgomery County’s chief administrative officer (CAO) for 12 years, died June 10 at age 78. He had suffered a brief illness, according to a family obituary.
Romer had assembled a task force of law enforcement and government officials to respond to sniper attacks in the county in 2002 and mentored a generation of leaders in the county government, mourners noted. The county’s Ethics Commission, County Executive Marc Elrich and county councilmembers shared tributes.
Former colleagues recalled how well respected Romer was, inspiring the phrase, “WWBD: What would Bruce do?”
Tim Firestine, who reported to Romer as Montgomery County’s finance director for over a decade, said that he and his co-workers would often think of that question when they were making decisions.
“We were lucky to have Bruce as CAO of the county,” Firestine said. “He was the model county manager.”
More recently, Romer served as chair of the county Ethics Commission, which he was appointed to in 2018, and volunteered at WAMU 88.5, the Washington, D.C. region public radio station, for several years.
Tom Sherwood, a political analyst on the station’s popular show The Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi, said Romer was an invaluable resource when it came to discussing county politics, but he was also humble about his experience.
“Bruce was so quiet and good natured,” Sherwood said. “He came from the rough-and-tumble world of politics, and he did it well. But I never heard him raise his voice, and I never heard him inject himself into a conversation.”
Sherwood said Romer often handled the phones when listeners would call into The Politics Hour, and that he was always patient and professional.
Steve Farber, who previously served as the county council’s chief of staff, also worked with Romer for many years, describing him as a “consummate professional.”
“He was an outstanding manager, and he recruited excellent people to a wide variety of key positions,” Farber said. “He was truly outstanding, and we will miss him.”
Elrich, in a statement this week, said, “Bruce was a dedicated public servant who collaboratively worked with others to enhance our community” and lauded his efforts in the sniper attack and as a mentor.
“Bruce was committed to improving the quality of life for the people he served, and he spent his career working to make life better for others,” Elrich said.
County Councilmember Gabe Albornoz said he appreciated the advice Romer gave him in his career.
“Bruce was a shining example of what is right and possible when you combine policy with compassion and vision,” Albornoz said in a comment on a family obituary.
Elrich also noted Romer’s work outside the county, in leadership positions with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the National Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League.
“He’s known around the country,” Firestine said.
Romer served as CAO from 1994-2006, but that was not his first position in local government.
He started serving in government in 1977 as a city manager of Sidney, Ohio, according to a family obituary. Then, he moved to Maryland and served as the city manager of Rockville, Maryland for six years before he became the CAO of the county.
He is survived by his wife, Kay Bowman, his children Laurel and Brian, and grandchildren Alex, Molly, Ryan, Jacob, Braeden and Emily.
Laurel Romer said her father had been dedicated to ensuring she and her brother were successful in their education and their careers.
“He was very invested in my brother and I becoming the best versions of ourselves,” she said.
She also deeply admired his passion for his work in Montgomery County government.
“His dedication to his field of study was unmatched,” Laurel Romer said. “It was really his calling.
She shared that in addition to his love for his career, her dad loved trivia, history, travel, culture and the arts. He enjoyed going to the theater, especially seeing Broadway shows.
A memorial service will be planned at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that mourners make contributions to WAMU 88.5 Radio, the obituary said.
MoCo 360 reporter Ginny Bixby contributed to this article.