Boyd Rutherford was shocked when he got a call more than a year ago from a little-known Republican businessman who was mounting an improbable campaign for governor.
The man on the other end of the line, Larry Hogan, wanted to know whether Rutherford -- who had never before considered seeking public office -- would be his running mate in a statewide campaign almost no one thought was winnable.
Once again, the 58-year-old Rutherford will be thrust into the spotlight unexpectedly, as Hogan undergoes weeks of treatment, including chemotherapy, and recovery. The governor announced Monday he has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.
"We keep piling more and more work on him," Hogan said of Rutherford after announcing he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. "Boyd has my back, there's no question about that."
And, Hogan added, "He is going to step up and do even more."
For Rutherford -- the third African-American to serve as Maryland's lieutenant governor -- taking on a more public role will represent a departure from a career that has largely played out behind the scenes. Colleagues describe Rutherford as reserved, level-headed and animated more by the inner workings of government than by politics.
Rutherford once called himself as an "operations person" who enjoys "making the trains run on time."
"He has a keen understanding of how the processes of government work," said Michael S. Steele, who was lieutenant governor under Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and who worked with Rutherford during that time.
"He has a keen understanding of the difference between what government should do and what it does do," Steele said.
The Maryland Constitution is clear on the transfer of power in the governor's office, even in temporary circumstances. If Hogan is unable to serve his full term, Rutherford would become governor for the rest of it.
If the governor is temporarily unable to perform his duties, the lieutenant governor would become acting governor "when notified in writing by the governor" or if the governor is "disabled" and "unable to communicate."