Former Ways and Mean Chair, Sheila Hixson, dies at 89

Sheila Hixson was in the Silver Spring area for more than 40 years in the Maryland House of Delegates and was among the first women to wield significant clout in that chamber.

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Sheila Hixson, a trailblazing former chair of Ways and Means, passed away at age 89.

Hixson passed away on Sunday in Florida’s New Smyrna Beach. She was 89. U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D) and the four state legislators from Montgomery County’s District 20, which Hixson served as a representative for 43 years, made the announcement of her passing on Monday.

Although the former lawmaker had been deteriorating in health in recent years, no cause of death was given. In New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where she shared a home with one of her daughters, she passed away.

Family and friends are planning a memorial service in Annapolis in early 2023. The proximity of Hixson’s death to Election Day was not lost on her political acquaintances.

Sheila Hixson served in the General Assembly for the longest period of any woman and presided over the influential House Ways and Means Committee from 1993 to 2017.

When Democratic moderates dominated the General Assembly, she was one of the more progressive members, but she was also a political realist who only engaged in difficult policy battles when she believed she had a chance of succeeding.

Hixson rose to prominence over time as a result of her victories in campaigns to enact stricter gun control regulations, advance gay rights, increase support for public education, and make Maryland’s tax laws more equitable. She was also a fervent supporter of immigrants’ rights and the environment.

Male House Leaders

Hixson gained the respect of a generation of male House leaders in Annapolis during a time when women were just starting to assume leadership roles. She impressed them with her political savvy and tenacity, and she was rewarded by then-Speaker Clay Mitchell (D) with the gavel on the Ways and Means Committee, which has significant influence over taxation, election law, and educational policy.

Hixson hosted an annual St. Patrick’s Day party in Annapolis during her tenure as chair, and it quickly became a cherished political custom. She served as chair until 2017 when she was succeeded as chair emerita by Del. Anne Kaiser, a fellow Montgomery County Democrat.

Personal Life

Hixson’s marriage ended in divorce, but for years she was romantic partners with Howard Cook, a veteran of Capitol Hill and the federal government who headed the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control for several years and mentored several local politicians in his own right. He died in 2004 at the age of 71. They had two sons together.

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Sheila Hixson was 71 years old at the time of passing. She holds an American nationality and belongs to the white ethnic group.