Established in 1710, the town of Easton elected last week its first female mayor, Megan Cook. Think about it—that’s 313 years.
Founded in 1845, the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) admitted its first women in 1975 and its first female graduate in 1980. That’s 130 and 135 years, respectively.
In mid-July 2023, the Naval Academy will install its first female superintendent, Rear Adm. Yvette Davids, in the 178 years that have elapsed since the academy was founded on the banks of the Severn River. Davids also was the first Hispanic American woman to command a warship.
Some might say that it is about time that women have assumed leadership positions in the political and military realms. They would be right. Patience for progress can be painfully frustrating.
Cook replaces Mayor Bob Willey, who led Easton conscientiously for 20 years. His style was steady and solid. What he lacked in charisma, he made up with a friendly, accessible manner. While his talking style was unpolished, his commitment to his position of mayor was unquestioned. I hope that Eastonians pay tribute to Willey for his long, dedicated service as mayor of a vibrant Eastern Shore town.
It seemed to this former Easton resident that Megan Cook was an integral member of numerous community initiatives, including the wonderful children’s play area in Idlewild Park. When I listened to her during the Talbot Spy’s mayoral candidates’ forum emceed by Craig Fuller, I was impressed with her creative and enthusiastic approach to governing. She was someone in the game, not on the sidelines.
Easton is a truly welcoming, livable town. We lived there for 44 years. It offers noteworthy medical expertise, plentiful recreation, improving public schools, first-rate utility company, terrific restaurants and adequate shopping.
That said, Mayor Cook and the Town Council will need to cope with increasing traffic, unpopular housing developments and downtown improvement. Small businesses will need attention. Affordable housing must be a priority, however complicated that might be. And a harmonious relationship with county government calls for constructive communication.
Well-planned use of the Shore Medical Center on Washington Street, when abandoned in upcoming years for a site near the airport, will be a crucial leadership challenge for Mayor Cook. It must happen with public input and flawless planning. It can be an asset or an embarrassment.
One other piece of unsolicited advice to Cook: show up, thus allowing your constituents to see you and express their thoughts—and even their constant complaints. It comes with the job despite the impact on one’s time with family. I suspect you know this political reality.
Rear Adm. Davids, a 1989 Academy graduate, faces a difficult mission as superintendent, a position that has no comparison to command of a warship. The superintendent is virtually a university president who must oversee the academic and behavioral conduct of 4,500 men and women. But the USNA is no ordinary institution of higher learning. It must inculcate leadership lessons and expectations from day one of Plebe summer.
The detrimental effect of global warming on sea-level rise, with consequent flooding and erosion at the academy, demands attention and expensive adaptation. To avoid town-gown tension, USNA must continue to cultivate cooperative relations with Annapolis residents.
Closer to the nation’s capital than the other two major service academies, its warts come under intense scrutiny. Instances of cheating and sexual harassment quickly garner unrelenting media glare.
I applaud Easton voters for electing Megan Cook. I commend the judgment of the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations for selecting Rear Adm. Davids as the incoming superintendent. I feel confident that both will do well. As members of the Society of the Firsts (just formed by this writer), they will quickly thrust aside their newly earned status and simply perform capably and effectively.
Our nation, often inflicted with defective leadership, can celebrate the promotion of women in careers of their choosing. Periodically, our societal horizon looks promising and hopeful. Dreadful influences vanish temporarily.
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. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.