Delude Ourselves to Death by Al Sikes


One of the more revealing occurrences at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was replying to complaints about news coverage. We received a lot of complaints and, as I recall, never more than during the confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas.

The responses to virtually all the complaints were polite, but also a teaching moment. We stated that the First Amendment precluded the FCC’s opening up inquiries into the fairness of news coverage. The media was free to report. The audience was free to believe or disbelieve. This all happened when the only possible feedback was in the form of Letters to the Editor. How quaint.

At the time, I felt reasonably confident that the Fourth Estate would sort out the complaints and provide some balance in its coverage. If nothing else advertisers sometimes pushed back. I have my doubts today.

The Fourth Estate was first recognized by Irish Parliamentarian and philosopher Edmund Burke, who said “there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.” Burke did not overstate its importance in a democracy.

The Fourth Estate, with a few exceptions, no longer enjoys a healthy business model. The classified advertising revenue stream was crucial for newspapers and significant audience share for broadcast networks is necessary if they are to maintain a strong journalistic staff. Newspapers have largely lost their classified advertising revenue base and TV news is spread among at least seven networks and has lost significant audience share to Internet based news, often Facebook and Google.

Facebook and Google claim that they are not news media, but simply distributors of what their users choose to post. Yet, Vox Media, a robust online news service, reports “the legitimate news stories outperformed the fake ones in the early months of the 2016 election campaign. But in the last three months, fake news sources saw their engagement surge.” Social media have become major sources of all news—real and fake.

Traditional media has weakened, social media has flourished. Most alarmingly, various online media have become the primary distributor of fake news. Paul Horner, a blogger and a source of fake news, is quoted in a Washington Post interview saying: “Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore…………” Horner claims to be a satirist and makes thousands of dollars monthly as the incurious and biased pass his stuff around.

Too many Americans allow their preferences to define their curiosity. Preferences should be contingent on asking questions, getting to the truth. I received by email forwards of fake news in the just concluded campaign. Most seemed to me implausible on their face. And when in doubt, there are web sites that specialize in sniffing out fraud, such as

It is also clear that with aggressive market expansion and platform dominance, plus significant cash flow, that Facebook and Google have responsibilities. In 2015 Facebook’s cash flow was $8.6 billion and Alphabet (Google’s owner) was $16.11 billion. They can afford to implement a credible news model since they, like it or not, have become news media.

It would also be encouraging to see TV networks live up to Fox’s clever branding: “fair, balanced and unafraid” while Fox News works on the “balanced” part. While it is hard to assess cause and effect, it seems certain that part of social media’s gain is because of the low opinion most have of legacy media.

My final thought: we live in complex and rapidly changing times. Curiosity, an essential trait for adapting, must be exercised daily to be a well-informed, prosperous citizen in a healthy Republic.

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. 

Editorial: The Inn on the Chester – The Case for a WC Hotel & Conference Center


Over the past few years, the Chestertown Spy has been less than discreet in advocating for a medium-sized, high-quality hotel for Chestertown. At the same time, it has also encouraged Washington College to assume a leadership role in its development.  Part of this is tied to the Spy’s desire for a bright, prosperous future for the town it loves, but also because it’s the right time and circumstances for WC to do so.

For decades, some very hard realities (capital, financing, market analysis, revenue projections) have given pause for such a role to dozens of WC leaders going as far back as the Douglass Cater administration in the 1980s. For reasons that were rational and irrational, the numbers never seemed to work enough to move forward with such a plan. Nonetheless, that interest and passion for such a facility remains as strong now as it did thirty five years ago.

Why? Because the rewards of building a Chestertown hotel are so strikingly transparent. The ability to accommodate medium-sized conferences, weddings, family reunions, returning alumni, prospective students and their parents, visiting dignitaries, as well as business people calling on local manufacturers, marketing firms, and other service industries, not only makes such a thing economically viable, these guests bring with them sizable discretionary dollars for shopping, dining, and other services.

The Inn at Swarthmore

The Inn at Swarthmore

In the world of higher education, even with relatively smaller schools, this has been the rationale in investing in the hospitality market. Over the last decade, countless schools have taken the plunge with hotel facilities ranging from twenty to eighty rooms.  Denison, Swarthmore, Kenyon, Gettysburg, Oberlin, Sewanee and W&L are just the latest examples of this trend.

While many of these schools may have better market capacity, larger endowments, and wealthier donor/investor constituencies to work with, the truth is that many other schools do not. That would include Flagler College, College of the Ozarks, Savannah College of Art and Design, or Wells College in upper state New York.

It may be true on the face of it that Chestertown and Washington College have significant handicaps to overcome in finding a solid business plan, the Spy’s albeit modest research into the business of town-gown hotels strongly suggests that these are minor roadblocks that can be effectively removed through creative financial and strategic partnerships.

Oberlin College is a good example.

In Oberlin’s case, a liberal arts college located in rural Ohio about an hour’s drive from Cleveland, the school ultimately built a hotel with seventy guest rooms that features a restaurant focused on local food and modest conference center. Planned to be “the cornerstone of Oberlin’s Green Arts District,”the facility’s 105,000 square feet also houses the college’s admissions and development staff. That sounds like a textbook definition of mixed use.The total cost was close to $36 million.

The expenses of a Chestertown equivalent would be significantly lower than that figure. Chestertown’s sweet spot for rooms would be more in the order of forty rooms. With that factored in, as well as a more similar comparison with the recently built Inn at Swarthmore, which cost closer to $25 million.

While $25 million sounds better than $35 million, it still turns out to be a huge sum for a small college in a small town. So where does Washington College get that kind of capital?

The Hotel at Oberlin

The Hotel at Oberlin

In the case of Oberlin, almost 60% of the construction costs were financed. Secondly, the school created a naming opportunity for a leadership donation (in this case $5 million from an Oberlin alum) and finally a consortium of donors/investors/community supporters to close the gap.

Another smart thing that Oberlin did was to place non-academic divisions of the school in the new building rather than build separate facilities. In this case, as noted above, Oberlin decided to relocate the College’s external relations staff there in order to maximize contact with prospective students, alumni, and donors under the same roof.

With waterfront access, a similar model could be used in Chestertown for WC alumni and admissions centers.  Or, equally appealing, would be to create a center that would include the hotel and one of its three centers of excellence like its renowned Center for Society and the Environment. Those strategies would undoubtedly add to the cost of the project but would reduce costs in other parts of the College’s capital budget.

Using a working number of $25 million, it would be mean that $15 million would be financed, a major donor, given a strong case for support, should be able to be found at the $3-5 million naming opportunity level, and the balance would come from other donors, investors, possible alumni timeshare programs, as well as the room guarantee contracts with the region’s larger institutions, included the College, the local hospital, manufacturers like Dixon Valve, and other, smaller service providers, schools, and retailers, proportionate to their annual need and circumstances.

Another factor that would make this goal achievable would be a strong “All In” response from the Town of Chestertown and Kent County. A project of this magnitude needs the careful escort of these governments through permitting and regulatory issues. And the project needs grassroots support from town citizens as well.

In the final analysis, as local developer John Wilson so clearly articulated in his interview with the Spy this fall, every project like this needs a champion. While Washington College must take the lead, a Chestertown hotel will need hundreds of champions to make this happen.

Let us hope the will is there.




Moving Moxie by Jamie Kirkpatrick


Twice a year, I help my friend Iffy move his boat, Moxie. She’s a 32 foot Halverson “Gourmet Cruiser,” but when we move her, the gourmet part is limited to deli sandwiches, chips and salsa, and a couple of beers. In the spring, after Moxie is unwrapped like a leftover Christmas present, we move her from her winter home at Tolchester marina and cruise her back to Chestertown where she spends the gentler months tied up at Iffy’s dock. Then, usually in mid-November, we make the thirty-plus mile journey in reverse. I’d like to think I was an important member of Moxie’s crew, but truth be told, my onboard responsibilities are few. It seems my job is to sit in the bow and enjoy the view, but at some deeper personal level, I feel like maybe I have a small part to play in the rhythm of the river.

Come to think of it, that’s no small thing. I spend part of every week over on the Western Shore in Washington. When I’m there, I drive to work in the morning and return home in the evening, a short, easy commute by big city standards. But, unlike my semi-annual river cruises with Iffy, there’s no real rhythm to it; I’m just a cog in the big urban wheel. I go from A to B—I’m destination bound—impervious to the journey which (as we should all know by now) is the most important element of any travel, no matter how routine or mundane. Over there, any semblance of rhythm is quickly drowned out by the clutter and clatter of city life and more’s the pity.

But here, in Chestertown, I hear, see, and feel things that go unheard, unseen, or ignored on the other side of the Bay. Honking geese in flight; a tree line in autumnal splendor; a nighttime sky filled with stars; the movement of the tides up and down the river. In a phrase, I feel closer to God here and I don’t mean that in any mawkishly religious way. There’s just less separation here, less separation between what is natural and what is fabricated, between what is eternal and what is ephemeral.

The trip down the river and up the Bay takes about four hours depending on wind and tide. We take our time, partly to save fuel and partly because we savor the ride too much to hurry. Old friends roll by: Southeast Creek, Quaker Neck Landing, the mouth of the Corsica, Comegy’s Bight and Langford Bay, Grays Inn Creek. Once we round the tip of Eastern Neck and pass Love Point, there’s more chop and heavier traffic—big ships bound for Baltimore, Wilmington, or Philadelphia. Just north of Rock Hall, we turn east toward Tolchester, the hum of the engines throttling down to dead slow at the entrance to the marina.

At the end of the day, much as we might wish otherwise, moving Iffy’s boat is just another transaction. Moxie will get winterized and spruced up so when we pick her up in March or April to make the journey in reverse, she will be almost good as new. Friendship, however, is not a transaction. It is a journey without a destination and these semiannual jaunts with Iffy mark the journey of our lives like nuns in the channel. A lot has happened since we brought Moxie up in the spring, but it’s always been smooth sailing for Iffy and me.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

ESLC “Food Fight” Transcript: Woodberry Kitchen’s Spike Gjerde


Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy hosted an all-day seminar cleverly entitled “Food Fight” to discuss issues related to our food supply in the Chesapeake Bay region. One of the more interesting people that the ESLC brought in that day was the renowned chef and owner of Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen, Spike Gjerde. Gjerde is a greatly respected foodie in the mid-Atlantic region, and the Spy was interested in his thoughts about the local state of food, sustainability, and hopes for the future is what and how we eat.  While the Spy recorded Spike’s comments that day, the acoustics in the room and the placement of the loudspeakers produced unacceptable audio quality and we therefore made a decision to transcribe his remarks instead.  They are presented here, lightly edited (with some omissions due to the poor audio quality/inaudibility).

I had made a commitment to purchase from local growers. And the only thing that ever separated me and what we did at Woodberry is that I stuck with it. And the only thing that allowed me to stick with it is I came over time to understand why it was important. That’s it.

Farm to table came along … and became a trend and everybody put a pitchfork up in the corner of their restaurant … but we were first. … Over time, talking to writers, reading what I could read, talking to folks… I started to understand why this was important. And I started to ask a little more from the food I was serving our guests.

Spike Gjerde at ESLC Food Fight

Spike Gjerde at ESLC Food Fight

As chefs, for a long time, for years and years, we talked about how delicious food is. And among ourselves we talked about how cheap it needs to be. That was the sum total of our conversation about our food as chefs. And I was one of those guys for a long time. It took me a long time to understand that I could do it and why it was important.

Chefs are forever going to talk about making delicious food, how to make it delicious. I’m a chef and I can’t get away from that. I love serving delicious food to our guests. The other thing was how cheap could it be, how many pennies could we shave off what we were paying, and we would always talk about food cost. It’s an obsession and it’s how you’re able to make money and I get that.

But, I started to ask different questions about our food. After asking “is it delicious?” and “can we make the economic thing work?” I started asking “is it nutritious?” It’s astonishing to me that chefs don’t have much of a sense or care about how nutritious the food is they are feeding their guests. This started to mean a lot to me. The best example about that is we are moving our baking entirely to locally grown whole grains. That’s something taking us so far outside the norm of restaurants and the baking in this country but I can’t imagine doing it any other way. There are so many good reasons to do that, but health when it comes to grains, whole grains are the way to go. So, we’re trying to make our food healthier.

I think the most important question, what I truly started demanding of the food we served our guests, had to do with something that was entirely economic. I started understanding the role Woodberry is playing within our food system as an economic role. I’ve only come recently to understand that I stopped thinking like a chef, and started thinking about how much value can we return to others.

What I felt we needed to demand of our food is that farmers need good pay. If something we were putting on the table wasn’t paying farmers, it wasn’t good enough for us. And that is the definition of what good food is that I never heard before. And I never heard it in the context of a restaurant, or from a chef. That’s what took Woodberry from being a farm to table restaurant that could have ended up like any farm to table restaurant to what it is today.

In 2014 we returned 2.5 million dollars to our local agricultural alone. In 2015 we hit a couple speed bumps and returned 2.1 million to local agriculture. This isn’t total spending. This is the amount that went back to farmers. We measure it and talk about it because it’s important. Without these dollars, the small-scale farmers, the ones that grow produce, grains, all the meat and poultry, eggs, all the dairy, all the cheese, the salt, all of it, if those purchases are not returning value to growers, I won’t serve it. And that became our definition of what good food is.

One of the frustrations for me as I’ve talked about food with people about what they eat, people can’t speak or think clearly about food. (Spike Gjerde says to the audience: “you’re not them”). But, they’re out there. It’s hard to sit there and say to them: there’s nothing about that chicken sandwich you bought for lunch that’s good – not the bread, not the chicken itself, not the way it was cooked, not the way it got there, none of that. And, I think we’re making some amazing headway around these issues. I’m almost ready to close the circle and start thinking like a chef again. I don’t think I can do it unless I feel clear that everything we’re doing is returning value to growers. And ultimately we want to make meaningful, measureable change in our food system with the dollars we return to our agricultural economy.

I want to see small scale farmers that think about the things we’re thinking about in terms of our environment, our society, work, health. I want to see those guys stick around, get paid for what they do, get rewarded for what they do. …

We started out as one restaurant, we are going to add four… One of the things I’m proudest of is our coffee shops, which have soup, salads, cereal, it’s the same food we serve at Woodberry. Every last thing is from a little farm. …

We’re doing this in Baltimore. And I hope that someday, people can look to us to see how local food can happen, what it can mean to a community of eaters and farmers and growers that supply them, that people can look at Baltimore and say: it already happened there. …

I changed the menu to say: “We source from local farms.” Period! And I put in big letters, I just had to do it, I was fired up. That’s what our menu says now. I should have said it a long time ago, because the message needs to get out there. We’ve got to talk about this and push really, really hard if this is going to happen.

I’ve been told over and over again that what I do is not realistic for most people. I’ve heard it so often I almost started to believe it. … But, it’s happening in Baltimore. It may not be realistic, but it’s happening. And, we are going to go from 2.5 to past 3 million as we do things like this (picks up large can of tomatoes).

I got some tomatoes canned this year. … I would get these beautiful tomatoes and take them to universities and places and they looked at me like I brought uranium into their kitchens. They were like literally: “get that out of here.” They said they needed it canned, and at a certain price point, so we did it. … So, we got Maryland grown tomatoes in these cans with a lot of information, there’s too little transparency in our food system. So, farm of origin, harvest date, yield off of acres… and we paid our farmers five times the going rate of commodity tomatoes. And got em’ in a can. So now I’m a part-time chef, part-time tomato salesman!

I am here to tell you that amazing things can happen when you decide why it’s important. That’s one of the things that’s been lacking. For me, it’s the environment, it’s social, it’s cultural, it’s about soil and soil fertility, it’s about biodiversity, there’s a million good reasons to be doing this. I can’t choose just one. …

We love what we have here. Had I foreseen what we wanted to do… I couldn’t have picked a better place [than the Chesapeake Bay region] to try to do this with food. To work with great people in the restaurant and on the farms around us, in a region that has the Chesapeake for fish and shellfish, that has incredible farmland and growers that work the land. There’s no limit. I would love for us to be able to show the world what’s possible here. … Thank you guys for your attention.

For more information about the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy please go here. For Woodberry Kitcheb, please click here.

Mid-Shore Arts: The Mid-Atlantic Symphony’s Julien Benichou on the Right Balance for the Holidays


It turns out, perhaps to no surprise for some, that the most challenging program for an orchestra director to plan every year is the seasonal concert in December. It seems that with this particular event, there is a very clear expectation on the part of the audience to be both connected spiritually to what is played as well as “feel” the magic that only the holiday season brings.

This has been the dilemma for the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra’s director Julien Benichou every year. And, adding to the complexity of these decisions is the need to balance the holiday concert with another MSO performance set for New Year’s Eve.

The Spy was interested in this conundrum and asked if the maestro would sit down with us to share his process of selection and personal aspirations for these two special moments of music. He generously agreed, and we met at Bullitt House in Easton last Saturday for a short chat about all of this.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about the The Mid-Atlantic Symphony’s offerings, please go here.

Performances of “Holiday Joy” by the MSO will be held on these dates:
– December 8 at the Avalon Theater in Easton, MD (7:00 pm)
– December 9 at Mariner’s Bethel Church in Ocean View, DE (7:00 pm)
– December 10 at Community Church in Ocean Pines, MD (3:00 pm)

The MSO New Year’s Eve performance of “A New Year from the Old World!” will be held at Christ Church in Easton, MD at 7:00pm.

The Simplicity of Being by George Merrill


The tumult of the presidential campaign frazzled me. For a while I believe I lost my soul. During the campaign, I was raging, criticizing, judging and oddly, feeling ashamed at times. It was depressing. I’m ready to nourish my soul. It’s been hungry for a long time.

To feed my soul, I try to surrender to the simplicity of being. I do this by settling into the moment, inviting awareness only of the now.

At the moment, I’m in my studio sitting in a chair, facing the windows. I spend at least half my days reading and writing here. My gaze wanders past a model of a square-rigger, outside to a large magnolia, then a good-sized crepe myrtle and finally to a statue of St. Francis. It’s late fall and Francis is compassed about by withering flowers that dallied cheerfully with him through the spring and summer. From there and beyond I can see across the creek to the opposite shore where a sailboat is docked. It has not moved in the twenty-seven years I’ve been here. Perhaps, as its sailors aged, the boat became too much to handle. It’s kept in sight though, like an ornamental seashell left to the life once lived. Here is my sanctuary.

Everything I see seems to stay the same. Yet. to say it’s not changing is illusory, for in fact it is changing and changing constantly. This is a littoral landscape, littoral meaning a shoreline, one that defines boundaries – the boundaries between the land and the sea, or in our case, the Bay. These boundaries are in constant flux.

Rachel Carson once described the shore as the “marginal world,” that shifting line that defines and redefines topography while functioning as the generous womb birthing an extravagant abundance of living creatures. Some hunker down in the mud, others move inland, or in the cases of the dipper ducks and turtles – inhabit both sides of the littoral divide.

I know the sea level is rising. Once the outer perimeter of my studio view was defined by a stalwart line of marsh grasses. The water rarely, if ever, rose significantly up their stems. Now it does. It’s as though the land has sunk (I think it has), but the tides are also flooding higher than they normally do. Change is the way of the world.

I know I’m living in a new era of social as well as ecological forces. I must learn to accommodate to them, to understand. If the reed bends, it won’t break.

My studio is my sanctuary, a place of safety and refuge. I dream there and wonder about things. The inmost recess or holiest part of a temple or church is also called a sanctuary.

There are two sanctuaries that I know of. One occupies time and space where I can take refuge and dream, like my studio. There is another. It’s a holy place that abides in the innermost recesses of every heart. It’s deep within me. When I’m fussing about everything, I forget it’s there. Of the people who retire there to take refuge and find safety, some return to tell us about what it’s like. I’ve gone there from time to time for refuge, as I am doing now.

While inhabiting that space, the natural world to which I’ve become so inured suddenly springs alive. It looks different. The familiar contours of the littoral landscape, or the thought of the fomenting of life seething in the muddy banks of the creek now seem like a fresh discovery. The effortless flights of raptors above and even insects going about their inscrutable business suddenly seem exotic, miraculous as if a spell had been cast over me and altered my vision. I enter a heightened state of awareness. I am finding my soul again where all things are made new.

he effortless flights of raptors above and even insects going about their inscrutable business suddenly seem exotic, miraculous as if a spell had been cast over me and altered my vision. I enter a heightened state of awareness. I am finding my soul again where all things are made new.

I leave my studio to take a walk. I feel alert, expectant. On the road I have a brief moment with a wooly bear.

As I walked the road, she was wiggling her way across it. We met in the middle. I stopped. We spent maybe two minutes together. She never acknowledges my presence, but just keeps going. I walk along with her, but I must go slowly. It’s good to slow down and not feel driven to go faster to keep up. I often lose my soul that way.

The wooly bear makes her way across the road and I’m sure she hasn’t noticed me at all. Her’s, as I considered it, is a hazardous journey. A passing automobile could stop her dead in her tracks. She is living her life to the full – living it in the simplicity of her being.

Fat and furry, she crawls along while undulating like Jell-O. She is colored deep brown with a copper stripe. Her destiny is simple. Once she’s crossed the road she’ll nest somewhere under a leaf or in the hollow of a log and spend the winter. As temperatures drop she will literally chill out – freeze for the winter duration and then in spring, thaw out and warm up to be transformed into a tiger moth. The reed that bends never breaks.

As I finish writing my thoughts (after feeding my soul), I look out my studio window. There’s St. Francis, as ever, holding a small bird in his arms and still surrounded by the remains of his loyal cadre of flowers.

This, for now, is the simplicity of being. It’s a good place be.

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.

Remembering Connie by Margie Elsberg


Editor’s Note. A special friend of Chestertown (and the Chestertown  Spy) passed away last week at the age of 90. Connie Godwin died peacefully early Tuesday morning in the town she loved. Margie Elsberg, her close friend, collaborator, and neighbor, was kind enough to share these thoughts with our readers and our community


Connie Godwin

In the late 1970s, Connie and Stu Godwin were living in Anchorage, Alaska, looking forward to Stu’s retirement from the FBI. They decided that they wanted to move back east, even though they had enjoyed their decade in Anchorage, so they spent a few days driving through small town Pennsylvania, looking for a place they liked.

Frustrated that nothing seemed to fit, they turned south toward the DC suburbs to return their borrowed car, and that’s when Stu spotted a sign for Chestertown.

As a small child, he’d seen a performance on a show boat in Chestertown, the same show boat, Stu says, that inspired Edna Ferber’s book “Show Boat” and the hit Broadway musical.

“I decided I wanted to see the town again,” Stu said, breaking into a broad smile as he remembered the day. “So we swung into town and it had everything we were looking for: hospital, college, water, pleasant atmosphere.”

And that’s how Connie and Stu Godwin chose Chestertown, a town they loved and that loved them back. They built a house at the end of Birch Run Road by phone and mail while still living in Anchorage, then moved in 1980.

After 36 years of friendships and community involvement, Connie Godwin died peacefully on Tuesday morning at Shore Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, a few blocks from her home. She was 90 years old.

A native Washingtonian and the daughter of a Hearst newspaper editor, Connie was a newspaperwoman and a news junky all her life. As a student newspaper reporter at the College of William and Mary, she helped break a story of that was picked up by the Associated Press about college quotas for minorities. Later, back in DC, she was a newsroom go-fer, a copy boy, at Phil Graham’s Washington Post—a job she was proud of for the rest of her life.

FBI assignments took Stu and Connie to Knoxville and Miami, years when Connie was busy with her young family, but when they moved to Anchorage, Connie returned to newspapering. She thrived as an editor at the Anchorage Times, a paper that she bragged was “the largest newspaper in the largest city in the largest state.” And when she and Stu moved to Chestertown—their three kids were mostly out of the nest by then—Connie moved to the Kent County News, working for Editor Hurtt Derringer.

It wasn’t long, however, before the phone rang, and she got an offer she couldn’t refuse.

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, who’d been interviewed by Connie in Anchorage more times than either could count, had heard that she’d moved “to Washington” and he wanted to know if she’d take a one-day-a-week job as his press secretary.

The rest is history.

The one-day gig morphed pretty quickly into a full-time second career that lasted for 20 terrific years. Connie took an apartment on Capitol Hill and, because she never drove, Stu would shuttle her to work on Monday mornings and pick her up late on Friday nights. (“Alaska is four hours west,” Stu explains, “so the office started late in the morning and finished well into the evening.”)

When Connie retired in October of 2000 at the age of 74, she was the longest serving press secretary on the Hill, and also (her favorite statistic) the oldest.


Connie with Sen. Ted Stevens (AK)

Here’s what Mitch Rose, now a senior vice president and top lobbyist for NBC Universal, wrote when he heard that Connie had died. He worked with Connie in Sen. Stevens’ office for nine years, including four as Chief of Staff.

“Connie was the steady rock in Ted Stevens’ press operation for years. They were peers in age, and much like him, she was more concerned with getting the work done right rather than getting the credit….She was the rare adult in a young people’s world of Capitol Hill and seemed to thrive off the energy. She led by example and there are literally hundreds of young Alaskans who owe her a debt for the honest, loyal and earnest role model she provided.”

On this side of the Bay, Connie has always found time for Chestertown and Kent County. She served on the boards of Kent Youth, the Chester River Hospital, the Chester River Hospital Foundation, Soroptimists, Questers and the Kent County Historical Society. She was, until the historic house was put up for sale, a docent at Geddes Piper House.

Connie and Stu had four children, Mark, “Peekie,” Chris and Gregory. Gregory was a little boy when he died many years ago, and Chris was a much-loved stalwart newspaper copy editor in Delaware who died in 2009. Connie is also survived by three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and there’s one more on the way.

Mark Godwin and Peekie O’Connor live in Des Moines. Peekie is a physical education teacher who won “Teacher of the Year” honors a few years ago, and Mark Godwin recently retired after 18 years as Deputy City Attorney of Des Moines.

Mark says Connie was “the single most vigilant mother and grandmother ever,” and Peekie agrees. She adores Connie’s favorite warning to her brood—“Ah! Ah! Sharp corner! Sharp corner!”

After her retirement, around 2003, Connie and I started teaching an occasional series of journalism classes for WC-ALL, popular because Connie filled our classes with world-class guest speaker journalists who were happy to repay Connie for decades of kept deadlines and honest information.

Working with Connie and being her friend has been one of the great joys of my life.

Spy Recovery Urgent Message for Mid-Shore Heroin Addicts


With the news that the Talbot County Narcotics Task Force seized the largest heroin bust in county history this week, it is very likely than many of the estimated 400 to 600 active heroin users on the Mid-Shore will be facing a major shortage of the drug’s supply.  For those addicted to the substance, the anticipation of the shortage will undoubtedly cause severe and life threatening withdrawal symptoms.

The Spy and the Mid-Shore Recovery Community want to alert those individuals that it may be an ideal time to seek treatment for their addiction rather than face a painful withdrawal process. We are recommending that they contact Chesapeake Treatment Center in Easton as a starting point.

The CTS is a clinic located just off our Route 50 dedicated to the recovery of individuals struggling with opioid addiction. You can start the process for treatment here

We would also remind those suffering from addiction to go here to see a summary of resources on the Mid-Shore.

Op-Ed: The Conservationist Case for Waterfowl Hunting by Kate Livie


Thanksgiving morning, just at sunrise, is when people who live on the edges of the Chesapeake are loudly reminded that they live in the middle of a thriving seasonal harvest: waterfowling. Shotgun blasts shatter the dawn silence, sounding for all the world like the opening salvos of a Gettysburg re-enactment. Swiftly following is the roar of thousands of startled geese or ducks taking wing. Left behind on the water are the wounded birds, some still struggling against the inevitable arrival of the retriever.

For some folks who have pleasurably watched the Bay’s fall aerial tide of geese, this is more than a surprise—it’s an outrage. Surely, this noisy, visible, gruesome killing—done for pleasure—must be violating some sort of law? Or at the very least, certainly it violates our environmental ethics in an estuary already imperiled by man’s presence?

In fact, this prominent reaping of waterfowl is not a violation of the environment at all. Despite all appearances to the contrary, these hunters, the licenses they buy for the privilege of harvesting waterfowl, and the preservation organizations they support, represent arguably one of the best-managed, best-funded and oldest conservation programs in North America.

That wasn’t always the case. Prior to 1918, hundreds of bird species, from geese and ducks to owls and egrets, were harvested without limit. Some were destined for ladies’ hats, others eradicated as nuisances. Many were hunted for their flesh. The Chesapeake, in particular, was known for its commercial waterfowl harvest. Each winter, thousands of hunters, armed to the teeth, would take to the Bay’s quiet coves in the efficient and deadly pursuit of waterfowl, ducks in particular. Canvasbacks, blue bills, teals, black ducks—all were killed by the thousands, often on the water or while sleeping, to meet the insatiable East Coast demand for savory wildfowl.

This rampant plunder of birds was no different than other 19th-century Chesapeake harvests—oysters, shad and sturgeon were all pursued to the edge of collapse. Waterfowl, though, were different. Unlike aquatic species, their dwindling flocks were easily observed, something that caused great consternation, not only in emerging conservation clubs like the Audubon Society, but also among affluent private sportsmen. The response was the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act—establishing the unprecedented protection of U.S. and Canadian wildlife on an international scale. It immediately ceased the hunting of waterfowl for the commercial market, establishing in its place a system of restricted sport hunting, managed by states, enforced by wardens and supported by the sale of licenses.

Since then, the harvest of Chesapeake waterfowl has been closely managed by strict bag limits and restrictions on hunting tools, gear, blinds and boats. Some species, like swans in Maryland, have been removed from harvest altogether. Others, like Canada geese, have had long-term protective moratoriums over the years. But all are closely supervised by federal and state agencies that monitor the bird populations and dictate the number that can be taken annually.

This 20th-century transition from market hunting to sport hunting created a new kind of waterfowler—one who never knew a shoot without a bag limit. Reared on hunting for enjoyment rather than volume, these sportsmen found beauty in the challenges of shooting birds on the wing. They learned from older mentors how to how to compose a decoy rig and the glottal symphony of a duck call. They rose for the promise of a glorious hunt when the geese hover, silhouettes against a fiery sky. They ate the few birds they shot with gusto and appreciation.

These experiences inspired both passion and protectiveness. Conservation hunters knew the only way to ensure the joy of a great shoot for future generations was to ensure that waterfowl populations flourished. They established private organizations—most notably Ducks Unlimited—to promote the protection of waterfowl and the creation of wildlife habitat. From the waterfowl nurseries of Canadian prairie sloughs to the Chesapeake’s overwintering marshes, DU used contributions to protect hundreds of thousands of acres and restore thousands more.

In the Chesapeake Bay, DU has joined forces with state and federal agencies. Both Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, near Cambridge, MD, and Deal Island Wildlife Management Area, near Dames Quarter, MD, for example, have partnered with DU on restoration initiatives for more than 20 years. As recently as 2013, both conservation areas completed major projects with DU’s help: enhancing a 57-acre portion of the refuge at Blackwater and creating at 2,800-acre impoundment at Deal Island to foster the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation—nature’s perfect waterfowl food.

It seems a contrary notion to congratulate sportsmen for the preservation of the waterfowl they’re shooting. But there isn’t a more vocal or committed community of waterfowl conservationists out there. They know the only way their beloved tradition continues is by waterfowl not merely surviving, but thriving. When you see the great cyclones of geese descending over cornfields at dusk, remember, waterfowlers are partially to thank. For almost a hundred years, those conservation hunters have committed to a sustainable compromise, balancing their shotgun blasts with the clarion call of a million geese, just arrived from Canada.

Kate Livie of Chestertown is the author of Chesapeake Oysters—The Bay’s Foundation and Future (2015) and serves as education director of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels.