Out and About (Sort of): Passing Away by Howard Freedlander

Part of living is honoring the recently deceased. It starkly reminds us of our mortality.

In recent weeks, I’ve attended two services for friends, one in St. Michaels and the other in Oxford. Both were Episcopal ceremonies. Both combined solemnity and humor. Both conveyed a sense of the person that rang true to family and friends.

I’ve written previously about Bob Perkins, who retired after a mostly overseas career with the Chrysler Corporation and then became a well-respected volunteer leader at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and the YMCA of the Chesapeake. Bob was a gregarious giver.

He was a player, not a spectator.

He sought results, not credit.

Dr. Ann Webb was a local physician who had a private practice and also served as the Talbot County health officer at one point. She practiced general medicine, preventive medicine and geriatrics. She too was a constant giver. She chose a field that catered solely to the health of her fellow citizens.

She too was a player, not a spectator.

She achieved results with little fanfare.

The Rev. Kevin Cross, the rector at the Church of Holy Trinity in Oxford, said at Dr. Webb’s service that while she had passed on, she hadn’t passed away. She would live in the memories of her family and friends—and the “sayings” she voiced frequently to her sons.

Though these are typical words from a clergyman at a funeral or memorial service, voiced to offer consolation and deflect finality, I think they have merit. The person’s spirit never vanishes.

Every time I think about my best friend college friend, I believe I’m feeling his spirit. I think about his quirks, his gentlemanly manner and his great smile. I used to talk to him every two weeks. I miss him.

Nearly daily, I think about my late mother. She was firm but fair and always deadly honest. She instilled in me my love of politics and public service. I still run into people who knew her, or know about her. I feel her presence.

So, yes, life goes on in memories and stories. We all know that. Stories provide the glue that fuel generational legacy and sense of self. Funerals remind us of our long, lasting ties.

At a reception following Ann Webb’s funeral, a friend mused to me whether anyone would say nice things about this person. I assured this friend that would happen. A bit in jest, I promised that my wife and I would offer kind—and honest words.

When I looked around the crowd at the Perkins and Webb funerals, I was impressed with the large number of friends who attended. I wondered: when we’re alive, do we really know how many people care about us, how many lives we touched? It might be hubris to claim we know.

More than eight years ago, when my Jacksonville, FL friend died, a viewing was held at a funeral home. A Catholic priest asked if anyone cared to “testify” on behalf of Bill. A young woman stood up and identified herself as a salesperson at a clothing store that Bill frequented. She then spoke about how well he treated her, pointing to his gentlemanly manner. I was not surprised by her comments—only by her feeling motivated to pay homage to her former customer.

Funeral and memorial services are rituals that allow family and friends to be part of a touching farewell to a loved one or friend. They provide a sense of community to all participants; whatever their connection to the deceased person, they can mourn and grieve together.

I think about the following words from the Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun,” and appreciate the sentiment expressed so well about grief and life:

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right

When I heard often humorous stories about Bob Perkins, I felt some connection not only to a man with whom I served as a fellow board member, but also to those who experienced him as he strode the world on behalf of Chrysler.

When I listened to two eulogists at Ann Webb’s service, I heard about someone whom I barely knew. I serve on an organization’s membership committee with her husband. I heard stories about Dr. Webb’s calm and caring nature, exhibited during sometimes hectic boating voyages with friends. I thought I wish I had known her better beyond superficial chitchat on social occasions.

Our lives are enriched by our friends. This is true not only for extroverts like this columnist, but also introverts who savor friendship in smaller doses. We are better for knowing people like Bob Perkins and Ann Webb.

And, yes, we may wonder whether anyone will say kind things when we die. Will a church overflow as in Webb’s case, and a tent burst at the seams as it did in Perkins’ case?

I pray for the Perkins and Webb families as they grieve the loss of a husband and wife, mother and father, grandfather and grandmother. A seat will be left forever open at a holiday meal. Silence will fill the air. A person we depended upon no longer is there.

Yet, when the sun shines, when the burden of grief subsides a bit, we can feel blessed by the sun, the radiance of the warm memory of a deceased family member or friend.

Memories and stories fill the void. They never pass away.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

For Land’s Sake by George Merrill

A day or so after the hurricane struck the Carolinas, I sat on my porch. It was a relentlessly hot Maryland day, without of hint of breeze, and the air was as dense with moisture as a sauna. Our porch overlooks a small cove at the head of Broad Creek. It’s a popular feeding spot for blue herons.

I saw a heron wading in the shallows. He was stalking something. He paced slowly with furtive steps that bespoke his intent to surprise his prey. The heron did surprise a hapless critter. He stopped pacing, brought his head up and back, and with lightning speed, thrust his bill forward like a rapier, snatching a sizeable crab from the water. How could he ingest it? How could the shell’s jagged edges pass though his long skinny neck into his stomach? I couldn’t imagine. In minutes, he’d swallowed the crab. I couldn’t believe he ate the whole thing.

I live near the water. Too close. I often wonder whether I belong here. The mystique of tidewater is alluring, but fragile. There’s the pungent smell of Sulphur that the marshes exude, and the parade of wildlife I see from my studio window: herons, deer, turkeys, otters, loons, buzzards and eagles. Turtles lay eggs in the driveway. There are ospreys, seagulls, raccoons all going about their daily routines except for the owls and raccoons; they prefer the night shift.

I don’t know just how long I sat watching the heron feed. I realized that the heron had commanded my full attention. For those several minutes I was wholly absorbed, enthralled. My entire attention was fixed on the bird while something else was happening to me at the same time; I was keenly alert and paying attention in a way that I rarely do, not because I decided I would, but simply because the heron seized my imagination. To say it was like seeing some creature from another world would be accurate. The heron was just that. The heron shares all the requisites for life on this earth just as I do, but his world is far beyond my ken; he seems exotic to me and, in that moment in the shallows of the creek, I was almost lifted out of myself by becoming fully conscious of another living creature that was my geographic neighbor.

The cradle of life on the planet began with and is sustained by the world’s wetlands. Moses may have reached the mountain top, but he was launched from the marshes.

Unfortunately, a beautiful land is an invitation to live there. With the large metropolitan centers within one and a half to three hours driving time to the Shore, an elderly population retiring and wanting to live their last days in an idyllic setting leaves the Delmarva a sitting duck for what’s euphemistically referred to as “development.” Development is an economic concept and has no respect for the characteristics of land other than as a commodity to be bought and sold. We know little of land’s needs, the meaning of its habits and what role weather plays in the cycles of its life.

Like Adam and Eve, we’re complicit in our own expulsion from this global garden of extraordinary beauty. We ate of the forbidden tree of knowledge and learned enough to profit from the fruits of the garden by practicing density development even while destroying it by the same means. We want the glories of the garden to inhabit it again, but are woefully ignorant of the land’s integrity, that is, what rights properly belong to the land as we plan to occupy it.

There are environmental saints in history, prophets speaking for the earth. They give our earth a voice. These saints have gained notice, but corporations have muffled their voices. John Muir, the preeminent American ecologist founded the Sierra Club as one way to provide nature with advocacy. He once said, “No synonym for God is so perfect as beauty.”

Rachel Carson documented the toxic effects of pesticides on the ecological food chain. The world is interconnected physically as it is spiritually. Its essential unity is undisputable.

Fourteenth century mystic Meister Eckhart wrote: “Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God. Every creature is the word of God.”

The American visionary of wilderness, Aldo Leopold, wrote of the earth as though it were a symphony.

Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote this about listening to rain: “. . . the talk it makes by itself all over the ridges and the talk of the watercourse everywhere in the hollows . . . as long as it talks, I am going to listen.”

Walt Whitman wrote, “I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.”

There’s far more to the earth than lots of dirt.

I’ve been thinking about the integrity of land after learning about the effects of the hurricanes in the Carolinas. Building homes on land that will be predictably inundated by water at one time or another is a failure to recognize the appropriate boundaries of land use. I know my house should never have been built so near the creek’s edge. Erecting structures so close fails to recognize that there is a natural rhythm between land and water that includes what we call periodic flooding, but I suspect it’s a form of ecological purification, a kind of realignment of natural boundaries as they are reconfigured by wind and weather. To ignore those boundaries violates the land and we suffer as a result.

It’s one more way we try to coerce nature into conforming to our will and not accommodating to hers.

And what about herons during hurricanes? They hunker down until it blows over. Then they pick up and nest nearby. They own nothing. They just live on the land . . . gently.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

No Perry Mason Moment; but Important Teaching Moments in Ford vs. Kavanaugh by Craig Fuller

We all want one, but when the week concludes we are not likely to have either a confession or a recantation in the presentations by Professor Ford or Judge Kavanaugh. What Perry Mason coaxed out of a witness on the stand was more clarity about reality than we are likely to see in real life. Why? Because both of the principals involved here have a very clear view of their own reality.

I hasten to add; it is evident that inappropriate behavior decades ago left a deep scar in one individual. It is equally clear that the accused party has led a life that honors and respects others and thus created for him a reality where inappropriate behavior is not now or ever part of his reality.

While there can be only one truth, Professor Ford and Judge Kavanaugh believe in realities that, while in total conflict, are real and totally convincing to them.

I’ve witnessed this before. During investigations into alleged wrongdoing in government, I experienced people I knew stating what they believed to be true. The thing was, it wasn’t. When I asked counsel how this could be and why would misstate facts, I learned something interesting. The explanation was that they had been telling themselves a story about an event over and over to the point where the only thing they believed is what they created in their own reality. And, they believed it so totally, they would easily pass a lie detector test.

It turns out; there is a name for this: the Rashomon Effect.

One online summation reads in part:

… every time you remember something, you rewrite it in your brain. If that recollection contains errors, you’ll strengthen those errors until you’re positive they’re correct.

The last thing I would suggest is that a traumatic event never occurred. But, lacking corroboration by witnesses, friends who had the story shared contemporaneously, or evidence gathered at the scene, we are left with two realities believed with equal conviction and articulated in ways that only solidify the preconceived views of those who will hear the testimony offered by two people locked in a conflict.

So, as much as we want to see a moment when, as in the Perry Mason show, one party cracks and only one reality remains as “the truth,” we are unlikely to experience such a nice neat result.

My assumption is that a vote will occur in the Senate on the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh consistent with where people were before this eleventh-hour revelation came to pass.

However, even without a moment where a single truth is revealed, it would be a mistake to avoid taking a few teachable moments out of this wrenching experience.

For some reason, I’ve found myself engaged in numerous discussions about the Ford/Kavanaugh situation. Some were sensitive, and several were anything but. It strikes me that there are three distinct groups of people: those who engaged in some form of inappropriate behavior; those who experienced inappropriate behavior; and, then, a group (which I believe I am in) who experienced neither of the above. What I find a bit shocking is that the “none of the above group” may well be the smallest of the three.

Following discussions with women for whom I have great respect, whether in person or in reading what they are writing, it seems that most recall with varying clarity inappropriate actions by another person. Certainly, there is a wide range of degree, and most suggest they just moved past the experience. But, the teachable moment here is that the experience remains an unpleasant memory with a life impact that is hard to judge.

Notice should be taken by all people, that inappropriate acts and unwelcomed advances have consequences. People want to connect with others. But, inappropriate actions can do harm, and those actions should never be excused as “well everyone does it.” Truth is, that is not true.

These days, inappropriate actions don’t just occur at parties. They happen online in the virtual world. These, too, are damaging forms of interaction that can have long-lasting effects.

We clearly need more focus on respect when it comes to human interaction. This needs to be the underlying value when developing a relationship with others. Whether casual or something else, mutual respect will get people past something that does harm for decades.

There is another teachable moment….

It goes to the process that has us where we are today.

Contemporaneous reporting really is important. I understand how people hesitate, I think. But, time works in no one’s favor, least of all the individual who has experienced the inappropriate behavior.

Then, public officials have an obligation to take appropriate action when they learn of the alleged offenses. Again, in my experience during government service, people did come to me with allegations of improper actions. It was always my policy to indicate that if provided with information suggesting wrongdoing, I had an obligation to take an action. I simply refused to be entrusted with information about improper conduct of any kind without doing something as a public official.

I have known Senator Diane Feinstein for decades since our days in California. The determination to withhold an allegation of wrongdoing by a nominee to the Supreme Court makes no sense. The timely and confidential consideration of this issue could have provided the best chance of learning the truth before the public uproar we are now experiencing.

When someone takes the time to document a recollection of wrongdoing, that individual deserves to be heard, and the allegation should be investigated and resolved if at all possible. In any FBI background check (and, I’ve participated in dozens of them involving other people) the question is always asked along the lines of, “is there any reason you know of that might make the appointment or security clearance inappropriate?” And, the answer given really is confidential.

When a public official has knowledge, even if it is not from direct experience, they have an obligation to inform the proper authorities.

Wherever you settle on the question of confirming Judge Kavanaugh, I think you will have to get there without the truth of a high school incident being fully unmasked. But, I hope we take the time to reflect on some of the important elements this debate has unmasked that impact the lives of so many. Today, we need to focus at least as much attention on what appropriate, mutually respectful conduct means as we focus on the breaking news around the tragic allegation of improper behavior in decades past.

Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.

​The Other Academy in Easton: With Allegro Academy​ Director Amy Morgan

It was a natural inclination of Allegro Academy’s Amy Morgan to start after-school youth and adult music programs in Easton. The music director of Trinity Cathedral was a product herself of early education programs as she moved through elementary and high school, and so the idea of reaching out the Mid-Shore community of singers to from Allegro was second nature.

That new organization is celebrating its first year anniversary, and the Spy thought it was a good idea to talk to Amy at the Bullitt House the other day and catch up the other Academy in town.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about the Allegro Academy please go here 


Social Distemper by Al Sikes

The Iraqis have a constitution, as do the Afghans. Both are relatively new and influenced by the United States. Yet, it would be hard to find anyone that believes Iraq’s or Afghanistan’s Constitutions have secured and stabilized those countries. Both countries are fraught with deep divisions; neither have cultures that yield readily to a stable constitutional democracy.

Culture is the hinge. In a constitutional democracy, bereft of civility, the way forward is difficult at best. Incivility is an attack on the very institutions we have so long celebrated—take a look at the latest polling on confidence in America’s foundation.

Today’s battle over Supreme Court nominations underscores the impotence of the Congress and too expansive interpretations by the Supreme Court. Both right and left believe their ultimate aims will be determined more by Courts than legislative actions. And, the last two Presidents have relied more on executive orders than prevailing with a legislative agenda.

Deep divisions did not start with President Trump nor will his defeat end them. He has, however, amplified divisions by his win/lose confrontations. Trump seems only satisfied when shaming the opposition. He, in particular, has sowed social distemper and we have only sour fruits to harvest.

Each public policy or election campaign battle is fought like the ultimate battle. Cycles of opinions, however, preclude that result; America is not owned by the right or left. Lawmaking is at its best when reason prevails; political battles thrive on passion, the antipode of reason.

I have been particularly alarmed by the power-seeking clergy. My religious tradition is replete with warnings about seeking power over love. Yet, the successor to Billy Graham, his son, is quick to attack in the pursuit of temporal power. The Church cannot win political wars; its doctrines can only prevail when it is true to its scriptures and its actions therefore show the world a winsome face.

And speaking of religions it is now, on the Left, an article of faith that some cluster of white men cannot find reason. I am all in favor of diversity, but find a construct that ultimately undermines our Constitution, a product of emotion not reason. The Founding Fathers were, after all, mainly a cluster of white men often drawing on the philosophic wisdom of white men.

I have no idea when the fever will pass or for that matter if it will. The causes of the fever will require strong medicine and in public affairs that means leadership. How many leaders, not pretenders, are prepared to be candidates in a political world where human frailty is weaponized and policy positions, aimed at Congressional resolution, are attacked by the Party’s base as being weak and accommodative?

Candidates in the weeks ahead will be pressed on the issues of the day. To me the biggest issue of the day is whether compromise is a necessary principle of first rank in our Democracy.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

A Campaign for Craft by Craig Fuller

Readers of the Spy know full well that an election is approaching this November. Our airwaves will fill with political ads and street corners will see signs for candidates filling all space available.

Into this environment those of us engaged in launching the 21st Annual Craft Show at the Academy Art Museum must bravely go. Rather than resist, we decided to embrace the spirit of the time with early stickers for car windows and store windows (Thank you Piazza for being the first!). Later look for our Meet the Artist lawn signs!

When we ask people to Vote Early! And, Vote Craft! we want you to do two important things: vote with your feet and attend the Craft Show on October 19-21; and, check out our first-ever online version of the Show, Dazzled Online.

The Academy Art Museum Craft Show celebrates the 70 artists who are coming to Easton from around the country bringing the product of their creative talents. We will be reaching out over the weeks ahead through Dazzled Online to tell the stories of our featured artists and to show people the quality of the work that will be available at the Craft Show and through the online auction.

You can stay in touch with developments over the next few weeks by registering now at Dazzled Online and when the auction goes live on October 1st, we hope you will consider placing a bid or two.

All proceeds from Dazzled Online and from the Craft Show go to the Academy Art Museum to assist in the fulfillment of the mission.

Craig Fuller remains a regular commentator at the Spy, but he is taking time to serve as Chairman of the 2018 Academy Art Museum Craft Show. He is also a Trustee of the Museum.

Chesapeake Film Festival Spotlight: ‘Riverment’ Director Shayla Racquel

While every year the Chesapeake Film Festival brings to the Mid-Shore the best examples of independent filmmaking, with many of their annual selections going on to be full feature success stories with awards and a broad public audience, some of the really exceptional parts of the festival are devoted to showcasing the work of an entirely new generation of directors.

Independent to the core, creative, and with sometimes the simplest of equipment, like using only a smartphone camera, these young filmmakers can produce the same quality of storytelling in short form as their older, more experienced colleagues can do with full feature films.

Shayla Racquel is one of those new filmmakers, and Riverment is one of those films.

In 2018, Shayla completed Riverment, a short film that discusses intergenerational trauma while comparing and contrasting movements. The film follows the relationship between a grandmother and a granddaughter to highlight how women have been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of all political and social movements.

The Spy sat down with Shayla in College Park last month to talk about her life and film work.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Chesapeake Film Festival please go here 

Out and About (Sort of): Shore Welcomes Franklin Foe by Howard Freedlander

After listening to the excellent Spy interview last week regarding William Smith, founder of Washington College in Chestertown, I couldn’t help but focus on the underlying challenges faced by a college president in the late 1700s and by a provost, typically the second highest position on a modern college or university campus.

Before playing a major role in founding Washington College, the 26-year-old Smith served as the first provost in 1756 at the newly founded Academy and College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania).

For full disclosure, the inestimable Benjamin Franklin, one of our nation’s founders, helped establish the Academy and College. He is one of my heroes. The university that he helped spawn is my alma mater.

Here are lessons learned from listening to the interview with Colin Dickson, an English professor at Washington College:

• A provost ought not to engage in politics, particularly during the years leading up to a revolution when passions were taking seed and blossoming into animated partisanship. Smith was a British loyalist and friend of the Penn family, the proprietors of the colony. Because of his politics, Smith clashed with Franklin, when the latter was board president and then an influential board member. Franklin was a vocal opponent of William and Thomas Penn and eventually an ardent Revolutionary leader.

It’s regrettable that the decades-long relationship between Franklin and Smith frayed. For many years, they were very close intellectually. They even traveled together in America and London raising money for the Academy and College of Philadelphia.

• A provost or university president ought not to cross swords with the president (now called the chair) of the board of trustees, nor board members sympathetic to the president/chair. It’s bad for longevity. William Smith, with his strong Tory ties, was dismissed from his job. He then took his drive, intelligence and educational philosophy to what became Washington College.

When recruited to the new school in Philadelphia, Smith had headed King’s College (now Columbia University). He was a graduate of St. Andrew’s in Scotland.

• Then, as now, a college or university leader must raise money, and so Smith did, as I noted. In fact, he persuaded General George Washington to donate 50 guineas to the new college. I wonder, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, whether Smith offered “naming rights” to the esteemed general for his contribution. Smith also knew where to seek money on the Eastern Shore, convincing Talbot County’s Goldsboroughs and Tilghmans and Queen Anne’s County’s Pacas to donate to create the college in Chestertown.

• As I learned from the interview, Smith was a solid educator and a headstrong person. Both characteristics apply equally appropriately to a modern-day college/university president. I’ve observed that a top-level academic leader must have credentials that draw respect from the often skeptical faculty. And this individual also must have a vision that he/she persistently articulates without any self-doubt. Donors respect clarity of mission and clear, persuasive communication.

* Smith was a heavy drinker, as I learned during the Spy interview. That’s dangerous. Moral authority is critical to any leader’s credibility. The Washington College professor said that Smith’s irascibility had roots in his alcohol consumption. Nonetheless, Smith, a fully functioning alcoholic, achieved significant academic success first in Manhattan and later in Philadelphia and Chestertown.

As I wrote, Dr. Franklin and William Smith developed fierce antipathy toward each other during a time of divisive and passionate loyalties. Both were determined to be right; their deep-set self-confidence conspired against reconciliation, at least not until much later. Smith was still unsparing in his criticism—though at the request of the American Philosophical Society, he served as at the official eulogist at Franklin’s funeral on March 1, 1791.

Then, a year before he died and 12 years after Franklin’s death, the poet Smith attached a scathing verse composed by a Tory sympathizer about Ben Franklin to the eulogy that he reprinted. So much for forgiveness on the part of Smith, also an ordained Anglican minister.

In a 1964 article in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography about the Franklin-Smith quarrel, Ralph L. Ketchum wrote that the two antagonists differed notably in their personalities and public philosophies. Franklin believed in seeking consensus quietly, pursuing agreement “in small steps, rather than controversy over big ones.” According to Ketchum, “Smith’s impulse, on the other hand, was to seek the overwhelming victory…his florid style was designed to stampede his hearers or readers.”

Washington College is a superb asset to the Eastern Shore. Though an imperfect person, William Smith helped found what has become a small liberal arts college well respected beyond the borders of Maryland. A liberal arts education supposedly enables and inspires tolerance and open-mindedness.

His foibles aside, Smith made an educated mark on the Shore.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

The Spy Columnists: Craig Fuller

There have been more than a few lucky moments in the Spy’s nine years of existence but none more so than the serendipitous formation of a unique team of volunteer public affairs columnists who now grace its pages every week. These highly respected leaders in their lifetime careers, gifted with intellect, imagination, and passion, spanning from the political left to right, has been one of the most significant assets of our hyper-local and education-based news portals.

The commentaries of Howard Freedlander, Craig Fuller, George Merrill, David Montgomery, and Al Sikes have considerably enhanced our community’s civil debates on the most pressing issues of our times. And while the written word is their chosen medium, the Spy, a great believer in multimedia with now over 2,000 video productions, has been grateful that they have agreed to be interviewed as our country enters into one of its most important elections in recent memory.

We continue our series with Craig Fuller who started his remarkable career in politics as a real “Reagan man” while a student at UCLA during the future president’s two terms as governor of California. Connected to Reagan through a issue related to  state-funded internship programs, Fuller had all the traits that Ronald Reagan sought out with his top aides; a gentle form of conservative thinking, a congenial approach in building relations, and, of course, a genuine sense of humor.

Fuller was tapped early on in Reagan’s successful campaign for the presidency in 1980 and joined the Reagan-Bush Administration in 1981, first as Assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs and then becoming Chief of Staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush during the second term of the Administration. He co-chaired the President Bush Transition and then entered the private sector in Washington leading public affairs consulting firms, associations and serving as an officer of a major consumer packaged goods company.

After years enjoying Bethany Beach as a retreat from Washington’s hectic pace, he and his wife, Karen, eventually decided to move to Talbot County a few years ago as their permanent retirement home to play a more active role in the community, be closer to old friends, and enjoy easy access to the Chesapeake Bay for their beloved “Ranger Tug” boat.’

Since that move took place, Craig has made good on his commitment to dive in and help on the Mid-Shore. From joining the Board at the Academy Art Museum, growing a beard for the “Cover Your Chin for Charity:” in Talbot County, or even helping Chestertown find a new restaurant, the native Californian has fully embraced his new Eastern Shore commitments.

This new life also includes the world of politics. As someone who still considers himself a Republican, and as recently as 2016 was supporting Jeb Bush for president, Fuller has grown disillusioned with Trumpism. The current administration’s confrontational approach to policy, its inability to compromise, the use of fear and Tweeter-based intimidation, and lack of moral standards,  stands in such great contrast to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, that Fuller is now fully committed himself to Jesse Colvin’s efforts to replace Congressman Andy Harris in the November midterm election.

The Spy sat down with Craig at the Bullitt House a few weeks ago to talk to him about the America’s state of affairs, his frustration with his own party, and his hope that the country can once again return to Reagan’s famed “shining city upon a hill.”

This video is approximately seven minutes in length.


On Having Opinions by George Merrill

I’ve been thinking about opinions, lately. I’ve noticed how time has altered many of my own.

If we have nothing else in life, we have opinions, hundreds if not thousands of them. Sharing our opinions is one of the ways that we affiliate with one another, get fresh perspectives, gain a feeling of the personality we may be dealing with, or just catching up.   Take a dinner party; there will be typically more opinions expressed around the table than there is food on it. If you are unfortunate, you will have been seated next to a person who is opinionated. Such people don’t just have opinions, they have answers. They have answers for questions you’ve never asked or even more for some you’ve never even considered. They never entertain questions of their own that indicate they have any doubts. I’ve found such people possess the remarkable ability to hold court nonstop while showing no physical signs that indicate they have ever taken a breath.

Newspapers and magazines welcome our opinions. They thrive on them. The press sets aside space for readers to text their opinions on just about anything. Opinions are also heard on the air and seen on TV regularly. Politics is particularly popular in opinion pieces. Since politics occupy such a significant place in our common lives, it’s a subject about which almost everyone has an opinion and, I would add, for at least the average citizen like me, marginal knowledge of how it all works.

Of the many blessings of American democracy, one is that we are not expected to actually know anything about the opinions we express, and particularly the issues where politics and religion are concerned. Has not folk wisdom warned us regularly not to discuss religion or politics in polite society? It has always been regarded as perilous terrain: abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Years ago, I remember a couple came to my office seeking help for their marriage. Their complaint: All we can talk about any more is religion and politics. Although I remained cautiously hopeful, their complaint did not suggest an encouraging prognosis for a happy reconciliation.

I have been writing essays since 2002. I have written op-ed pieces in righteous anger only later to cringe when some new data appeared which made it clear to me that I had only a minimal grasp of the complexities expressed in my rant; I’d gone off half-cocked. I must confess there is a kind of fleeting intoxication that occurs, especially if the opinion – at least while I’m expressing it – is as right as rain. The need to be right can be hazardous to our health.

The kind of opinions being expressed can often be identified by the tone and the volume by which they are delivered. Opinions that share general observations are delivered in well-modulated tones that are collegial and inviting. If the opinions being shared are in the service of correcting what somebody sees as my misguided opinion, or trying in some way to win a point, the volume steadily rises while the tone loses any lyrical quality and grows increasingly dissonant.  

Anyone who has raised children, gone through their adolescent years and survived to tell the story, knows that being right has limited value in maintaining a happy family. This truism has found expression in the playful quip: Would you rather be right or stay married? The point here is that there are some things that are critical for our ongoing happiness and being right is rarely one of them.

Not long ago among the letters to the editors in the Star Democrat, there appeared a heated exchange of opinions on whether trickle-down economics works. For a few days, letters shot back and forth as each delivered his opinion with the measured authority and profound conviction. One letter explained that the policy was a success during the Regan era, while marshaling facts and figures to prove it. Another opinion piece quoted facts and figures that demonstrated how it had clearly not succeeded. Who knows the truth of the matter? We are so often left only with opinions, some interesting, some tedious, each defended fiercely, eloquently documented, and at the end of the day, hardly any are reconcilable.

It is both a blessing and a curse in how differently we can see the same things.

I do not propose that any of us should refrain from expressing opinions.  I do suggest that the wise treat their opinions tentatively, the way I once plotted courses during my sailing days. In determining the course, I chose to follow. I’d remain alert to any changes in the atmosphere that may indicate that maintaining my present course will be hazardous. In exchanging opinions without creating a storm and for safe sailing, Miss Manners and Bowditch’s, American Practical Navigator, are a must read.

Opinions, should have an element of flexibility and never be doggedly clung to as if they are eternal. Change is at the heart of all existence.

An old tale tells of the student who went to his meditation teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel distracted; I can’t focus, I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!” “It will pass,” the teacher said. A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so focused, so peaceful!” “It will pass,” the teacher replied.

Time and experience, if our minds remain pliable, are supposed to change our opinions and if not, at least modify them for no other reason that everything is changing. An inability to change them suggests a kind of psycho-spiritual paralysis, or worse still, that rigor mortis has finally set in. American poet, James Russel Lowell, said of such intransigent folk: “The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinion.”

It’s really ok to change our minds.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.