Harry Roe Hughes, two term Maryland Governor from the Eastern Shore, foremost champion of saving the Chesapeake Bay, and long-time Chairman of Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), passed away comfortably at home last week after a long and very full life. Harry was a true statesman who had an incredible impact on Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay, the Eastern Shore, and all of us here at ESLC.
Just after Harry left the State House and his leadership role in stimulating the multi-state Bay cleanup, he was recruited to ESLC by his high school physics teacher – Howard Wood – one of ESLC’s Founders. Once on our Board Harry jumped right in and quickly started presiding at meetings, raising funds and shepherding me around the halls of government in Annapolis. Harry stayed active with ESLC in various roles even through his later years. During 2005, Harry and John Frece used the ESLC offices for the drafting of his autobiography, My Unexpected Journey.
Harry often loosened up ESLC crowds with stories of baseball and growing up in Denton when you could ramble unhindered across field and forest throughout Caroline County. He also took pride in his mischievous streak often telling about pushing his parent’s car out of the driveway and down the road before starting it to conceal nighttime joy rides. Many of his stories were prefaced by Harry saying he was killing time to avoid leading everyone in the ESLC fight song – “Don’t Bring In Sprawl” – which he hated singing.
My favorite Harry memory was in 1995 when he recruited the USDA Secretary to speak at ESLC’s annual gala in celebration of our proposed Security Corridor of protected farmland on the Eastern Shore. The morning of the sold out event at the Tidewater Inn the USDA Secretary was called out of the Country, and when I called Harry with the terrifying news, he simply said, “Let me see what I can do.” By that evening Harry had choreographed a speech by Maryland Agriculture and Natural Resources Secretaries and with Governor Glendenning on speakerphone that announced a major new State effort to protect our Corridor – and our crowd cheered! Now known as Maryland’s “Rural Legacy Program,” this initiative that Harry started that evening has now protected 920,694 acres of beautiful farmland and habitat. A nice day’s work!
Harry would often tell a joke about how someone in an elevator once asked him, “Didn’t you used to be Harry Hughes?” And his punch line was “Still am!” Truthfully, that joke is not that good, but when Harry told it, people roared with laughter. That was just Harry’s way – low key, comfortable, and lighthearted. We could use more of that today in our leaders.
Rob Etgen is the president of the East Shore Land Conservancy