Change is in the air. A new era is imminent. And all is good as longtime leaders with tremendous legacies are moving on with their lives. Sadly inevitable.
After 31 years as the founding executive director/president of the highly respected Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), Rob Etgen will retire at the end of December. Under his leadership, 65,000 acres of land in Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline, Talbot and Dorchester counties have been preserved for perpetuity.
This alone would be an eye-catching achievement. Working with the board of directors (I am a member), Etgen also oversaw the incredible rehabilitation of the McCord’s Laundry as the Eastern Shore Conservation Center (ESCC).The transformation of this industrial laundry building is amazing.
Now one of the former Phillips Packing Company plants in Cambridge is undergoing a renovation that will parallel the vision and utility of ESSC. The repurposing of this large building could be a boon to Cambridge, capturing part of its past glory when Phillips was a major employer and canning company and charting a new economic development future.
Etgen is leaving a legacy rich in its preservation of the Eastern Shore’s special quality of life. Thousands of conservation easements attest to his tenacity and people skills.
My former boss, Maryland State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, is retiring also at the end of December after 50 years of public service, including 19 as the highest ranking woman in Annapolis. She is an extraordinary person who dealt with contentious issues with calm, intellect and common sense. She eschews headline-grabbing; she seeks little or no credit.
Though the State Treasurer’s Office is considered the state’s banker—and in fact manages three major banking relationships—the State Treasurer is known primarily as serving with the governor and comptroller on the powerful Board of Public Works (BPW).
Often viewed as the voice of reason on the BPW, Kopp also has faced criticism for not being strident or argumentative enough on a board that annually approves billions of dollars of state contracts. Having served as Kopp’s liaison on the BPW, I observed that her level-headed approach worked effectively. She declined to make noise for the sake of media attention.
Nancy Kopp will be missed. She ran an efficient state agency. She treated people with respect. She asked tough questions. She always did her homework.
At the end of June, Kelly Griffith, superintendent of Talbot County Public Schools, will retire after 39 years as educator. Though I dealt with Griffith for just a short time when I served briefly on the Talbot County Public School Education Foundation (TCPSEF), I quickly realized that she was a dynamic, no-nonsense school superintendent.
Griffith knew the county’s public school system as superintendent for nearly nine years and in leadership positions since 1988. She established the TCPSEF to raise private funds for enrichment programs and internet connection fees for families unable to afford them, particularly evident during the Covid closures. This creative approach by a public school system yields money targeted at specific needs.
Superintendent Griffith is a doer intent on upgrading the educational standards in Talbot County. She has set a high mark for a successor to meet and exceed.
The director of Horn Point Lab (HPL) a marine science research facility in Cambridge under the auspices of University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Cambridge, Mike Roman is retiring at the end of June 2022 after 20 years at the helm of a well-respected source of objective information about the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
A Ph. D professor of biological oceanography, Roman has been a scientist for 30 years. As HPL director, managing talented scientists and guiding graduate students, he has raised the visibility of a lab formerly little known, but one that Mid-Shore residents and political officials in Annapolis have discovered as a producer of reliable, science-driven data.
Roman is a down-to-earth scientist who impresses people not only with his knowledge, but also his low-key demeanor. He was my wife’s boss for 10 years. He favors modesty over braggadocio despite the accomplishments of his scientists, as well as his own oceanographic pursuits in the international arena.
Though disruptive, change is healthy and necessary. Those who follow exceptional leaders often fail. They find replacing “legends” dauntingly difficult. This phenomenon is all too commonplace in the private and non-private sectors.
A combination of staff, board and community acceptance and support; understanding of the expectations and culture; an adaptable but determined personality; patience; staff development; ability to produce a few quick wins and just pure luck lead to a productive transition.
Failure is an undesirable option. Success is achievable with a plan—and acknowledgement of a predecessor’s strengths— and a willingness to learn under pressure, while displaying a large dosage of humility and humor.
Much is at stake. Innumerable constituents are intently watching and hopefully helping. Success is a group effort.
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.