PORT DEPOSIT — Friends, former colleagues and fellow first responders say they will remember Daniel “Skip” Mahan as a straight-shooter with a great big heart.
“He had the biggest heart in the whole world,” said Frank Muller, former director of Cecil County Emergency Services, who called Mahan a dear friend.
Although both men faced health issues, it was Mahan who was always checking on Muller.
“He’s fighting for his life and he’s worried about me,” Muller said of his friend. “I’m just heartbroken. We talked all the time.”
“He was 10 years my senior. He was like a big brother to me,” Muller said. Mahan would drive from his home in Port Deposit to Muller’s in Earleville. “He loved coming down this way.”
Mahan, 78, died last week leaving behind a long history in law enforcement and volunteer fire service. Among his many titles; US Marine, Maryland State Trooper, Cecil County Sheriff’s Deputy, Elkton Chief of Police, Director of Cecil County Emergency Management, Civil Defense and Homeland Security. He was also active first at North East Fire Company and then Community Fire Company of Perryville.
“Skip was very meticulous about everything,” Muller recalled. Muller was a Cecil County 911 dispatcher under Mahan. “He knew every job in there. He was very knowledgable.”
He also credits Mahan for getting the department out of the basement of the Cecil County Courthouse.
“We finally had windows where you could see,” Muller said.
Mike Dixon, Cecil County Historian, said Mahan can be credited with the modernization of Cecil County’s emergency services systems.
“He was the second director of Civil Defense after Bill Ward,” Dixon said. Ward held that post for 30 years, starting at the height of the Cold War. Mahan knew the county needed more to deal with weather emergencies, train wrecks, and flooding.
Eventually, when Muller became director of DES the tables turned and Mahan worked for him.
“I convinced him to come back,” Muller said.
Lt. Lawrence Waldridge with Elkton Police Department remembers when Mahan was his boss.
“He was an excellent leader and mentor,” Waldridge said. “He promoted a team environment, making everyone feel included.”
Just as he did with the 911 Center, Waldridge said Mahan helped modernize EPD.
“He helped the agency excel in technology, personnel and professional development,” he said.
Waldridge recalled a particular Friday afternoon command meeting where no consensus could be reached.
“We didn’t all agree and Skip was in total disagreement from all of us on a resolution,” he said. However, as a testament to his leadership style, Mahan called a meeting the following Monday.
“He opened with, “You know guys we didn’t all agree on Friday but that’s OK. Something would be wrong if we all did,” Waldridge said of the meeting.He told his command staff he had considered all the points of view over the weekend.
“What you guys said, each of you had great points I hadn’t thought about,” Waldridge said Mahan said. “I want to revisit this, include some of your suggestions and find the best resolve.”
Waldridge said he and his fellow officers appreciated being heard and valued.
“This truly reflected his personality, who he was as an individual and how we was as a leader; solidifying with each of us (that) he valued our opinions.”
That leadership was also evident at Pleasant View Baptist Church, Mahan’s spiritual home for more than 25 years.
“He was a tremendous Man of God,” said The Rev. Harold Phillips, senior pastor at the church on Downin Lane in Port Deposit. “We’re really going to miss him. He was a solid leader.”
Phillips said Mahan “wore many hats” at PVBC including administrator of Lighthouse Christian Academy when it was in operation. “He was such a blessing. He taught leadership at the church.”
According to Wayne Tome, director of the Cecil County Department of Emergency Services and a lifelong member of Water Witch Fire Company in Port Deposit, it was Mahan that changed the way the Maryland State Firemen’s Association operates.
“He introduced the executive director position,” Tome said, adding it was radical enough of an idea that members had to be convinced. “It had to be done with finesse to make the members comfortable with it.”
Once he had their blessing, Tome said Mahan would train the management and set up the business plan.
“He was the first executive director. He did the job until they hired one,” Tome said, adding Mahan led the search.
Tome described Mahan as “a very process driven person.”
“He’d look at thing and give you advice. He was a good advocate,” he said of Mahan’s value to those in the fire service. “It was good to have him available to help me.”
Mahan also used those leadership skills at the Community Fire Company of Perryville, for which Fire Chief Bradley Willis is eternally grateful.
“He had a very calming effect on people. He helped us see the big picture,” Willis said. “He would not let people get bogged down in the details.”
“I took counsel with him many times,” Willis added. “Even though he was never a fire chief he had more than ample experience.” Mahan did serve CFPV as a vice president and member of its board of directors.
Willis admits it wasn’t until Mahan passed that he got a full picture of the scope of his skills and experiences.
“The calls of support and condolences is touching. The number of lives he touched is amazing,” Willis said. “He made the most of his life. He didn’t waste any time.”
It will be Phillips’ job to lead the funeral service to be held Friday morning at the church. While no funeral service is easy, the pastor said that Mahan loved the Lord makes the goodbye a bit easier.
“His life has preached his funeral,” Phillips said.