What Lies Beneath by Jamie Kirkpatrick



Recently I happened upon a shallow pool covered with aster and chrysanthemum blossoms. Someone must have picked or cut the flowers to float them dream-like on the still, dark water. There were a few fallen maple leaves drifting in the mix testifying to the imminent arrival of autumn. I thought to myself, “So beautiful above but I wonder what lies beneath?”

Autumn is my favorite season: the heat and humidity of summer are gone and in their stead, there are warm, drowsy afternoons and open-window nights. There are holidays to anticipate: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas; Downrigging Weekend is around the corner; the fire pit is waiting in front of the porch to welcome and warm First Friday friends. Autumn is so inviting above, but we know all-to-well that a long, cold winter lies just beneath.

Up on the surface of America, if you look closely enough, you can see a few asters and chrysanthemums floating on the water. The stock market keeps going up (although too few people benefit from it) and unemployment keeps going down (although wages remain largely stagnant). Last week, a selfless and kind-hearted Cajun Navy steamed into battered North Carolina to ease the massive suffering caused by Hurricane Florence. The Red Sox are the winningest team in baseball. But poke a stick beneath the surface and you won’t have to go very deep to find a nasty Supreme Court nomination battle, cantankerous mid-term elections, an opioid crisis, crumbling infrastructure, a continental divide over knees and Nikes, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and an ocean of angst caused by a chaotic administration and a broken political system that would leave our Founding Fathers and Mothers dazed and confused. Just like my quiet, little pond in the woods: beauty above, muck below.

I have a friend who won’t go swimming in the ocean because he’s afraid of sharks. He loves the beach, he loves to fish, but he won’t put his toe in the water because he’s afraid of what lies beneath. I understand this. Sharks are scary creatures but statisticians and oddsmakers put your chances of being killed in a shark attack at 1,347,067 to 1. (The odds of being killed in an automobile accident are 84 to 1, but my friend drives his car anyway.) I guess the point is that the things we can’t fathom, all those things that lurk beneath the surface, are writ so large in our imagination that we often fail to appreciate all the colorful flowers that might be floating on top of the water.

I doubt any of this surprises anyone. It’s not uncommon to be afraid of the deep and the dark. When I was a child, I was convinced that an alligator lived under my bed and if—heaven forbid!—I had to get up in the night, it took uncommon courage to make that impossibly long leap across the room. Even when I had my father inspect what lay beneath my bed before I went to sleep, I was dubious when he said that nothing was lying in wait for my little feet. But that was then; this is now. I’m a grownup. There’s nothing under the bed, silly.

Is there?

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

Letter to the Editor: Protecting Mueller


Most of us suspect that Robert Mueller’s investigation report will not be good for team Trump. Trump has to know this too. Will he fire Sessions and Rosenstein before Mueller’s report is published, and replace AG and Deputy with people willing to bury what has been found to date? I have worried about that.

Something encouraging, though. Jill Wine-banks, one of the prosecutors during the Watergate scandal, said that members of her team feared Nixon would try to squelch the investigation by such tactics. And so, team members began to take copies of crucial reports/findings home with them at the end of their working day. That way, if office documents were commandeered, sealed, or by other means buried by Nixon’s lawyers, copies would survive. The truth would be preserved and eventually come out.

So, if Team Trump is able to terminate (bad word choice?) Mueller’s investigation, probably the only thing to regret is what Mueller’s folks have not found so far. What they have found will eventually be revealed (I think, I hope, I pray, I’m counting on).

For what ideological differences we might have with Jeff Sessions, he seems to respect the rule of law. When this is over, he doesn’t want history to view him as a Trump puppet. He is not a Trump loyalist or protector. That’s why Trump has been trying to get rid of him sans Saturday Night Massacre. Trump thought the Justice Department was to be his personal defense team, but Sessions said no. After all, that role is better served by the GOP Congress.

Rod Rosenstein, being Mueller’s boss, is in a tougher position. He’s gotta know everything that Mueller has uncovered so far, and therefore what a crook Trump is. He, like Sessions, must also be concerned with history’s verdict. Thus he has to “handle” Trump carefully. Tell him what he wants to hear while quietly helping Mueller do his job. Yes, he was complicit in getting Comey fired, which Trump was going to do with or without the justification letter, but the letter allowed him to stay on and keep Mueller’s work moving.

If you look at all the people who have flipped so far, people who know dirty little secrets of Trump and family, and are feeding Mueller this info, no wonder Trump is hosting more we-love-the-king rallies. That’s not counting what Mueller can find without help from the flippers (tax records, money laundering, conspiracy evidence).

Who will history look upon unfavorably? Trump enablers and supporters in the GOP. They will say “Oh, we didn’t know what a crook he was,” but in this age of electronic communications and hundreds of bird-dog reporters, not just two as in Watergate, that defense will ring hollow.

Bob Moores

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.

Comfort Zones by Nancy Mugele


From the first time I watched The Wizard of Oz as a young girl, I vowed never to get into a hot air balloon. I was more afraid of the balloon than the Wicked Witch of the West – or her monkeys. Why fly in an unsteerable aircraft subject to the whim of the winds, when you can simply click your heels together and find your way safely home. Seriously, hot air balloons truly frightened me. While I was not really afraid of the experience of “flying” – I became consumed with panic when I thought about the actual landing.

I was convinced that hot air balloons were not safe. After all, the heated air inside the balloon is propelled by an open flame of burning liquid propane. Seems like a recipe for disaster. And, then there is the woven wicker basket – the only thing holding you in, and holding you up. No, thank you.

Last weekend I snuck away to Napa with Jenna and Kelsy for the first of, I hope many, Mugele Girls Weekends. Yes, you guessed it. I was pressured to take a hot air balloon ride. Jenna made me do it, and she was the birthday girl who made the reservation, so I could not back out. I was petrified.

On a regular basis, we tell our students at Kent School not to be afraid to take risks. We push them out of their comfort zones with challenging academics, performing and visual arts exhibits, physical education and athletics, outdoor educational experiences on the water, overnight trips and class-bonding trust exercises. Now it was time for me to take the advice I give students and expand my own personal boundaries.

On the morning of the scheduled sunrise balloon trip, we arrived at the location in the dark. As a result, we did not notice the heavy fog sitting on top of the Napa Valley. Balloons cannot fly in fog so we were given the choice to drive 45 minutes away where the balloons would be able to fly. We decided to go, although it meant we would view the sunrise from large windows in passenger vans, and it also meant more time for me to obsess about the balloon ride and the subsequent landing.

Our balloon operator literally looked like Professor Marvel. He had been flying balloons for 28 years which was a comfort to me. Despite the fact that the basket did not have a door, meaning we had to climb into our compartment, all I can say is that the flight was magical. The scenery was breathtaking as we gently floated over the terrain. It was peaceful and the ride was silky smooth. The landing, well, that is another story. Thankfully there is no video. I may have screamed a bit, but I conquered my fear. I cannot describe the feeling of completing a task that I had never in my life ever expected to do. It felt incredibly joyful. There was an adrenaline rush I had not experienced in a long time and it was so exhilarating. I think my daughters were just as excited as I was that I went on the ride, exited the basket (with a little help), and was standing to tell the story.

I saw the same joyful expressions on my students’ faces this week in photographs from Middle School Chesapeake Bay Studies trips with Sultana Education Foundation and Echo Hill Outdoor School. There is truly nothing better than stretching yourself in a safe place. Whether in the classroom or in an outdoor classroom, research indicates that deeper learning happens when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

In Napa, I also popped a cork off a bottle of champagne by slicing through the bottle top with a saber à la Napoleon Bonaparte, who famously said, “In victory, you deserve champagne; in defeat, you need it.” I even received a certificate for mastering the art of sabrage, which I plan to display. Another out-of-comfort-zone experience I will savor for a long time. Cheers!

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s.

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.

The Shortest Distance by Jamie Kirkpatrick


High school math is now just a distant memory, but one thing that has stayed with me all these years is that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. If you want to go directly from point A to point B, walk a straight line. Makes good sense…and yet, I rarely do.

The trouble is the straight line theory has a few holes in it. Mariners, even ones at sea before Columbus set out on his straight-line voyage to India, knew of the phenomenon we now call the Great Circle route. It turns out that the shortest distance between two points on a sphere is not a straight line; it’s an arc. Once the steamship replaced sails, navigators became unhooked from rhumb lines which depended on prevailing winds and fixed compass headings. These days, for any journey outside of equatorial regions or for distances greater than a few hundred nautical miles, it’s faster and cheaper to follow a great circle route. I mean who doesn’t want to save time and fuel? But those economies are not why I have come to view the straight line theory as suspect. Straight lines are suspect because I—and I admit it—am an inveterate meanderer.

It’s healthy to meander. Eons ago, our beautiful river learned to meander on its twenty-three mile journey down to the Bay. I feel the same way today: given the choice or the luxury of time, I’ll take back roads over Interstates any day because you never know who’ll meet or what you’ll see when you take the long way ‘round. Even on my hebdomadal journey over to The Kitchen on Thursday evenings, I’ll often eschew the shortcut through the garden behind the White Swan and do a little window shopping at The Wine and Cheese Shop or Twigs and Teacups or The Village Shop on Cannon Street. When I turn the corner onto High Street, there’s the Music Store and the Art Gallery and The Garfield beckoning to the wayfarer in me. No wonder that by the time I arrive at Rob’s bar, I’m ready for my Martini Night libation!

Now don’t get me wrong: there are times when it makes good sense to take that shortest of routes from A to B. I don’t have time to meander when I hear nature’s call. I try not to meander on the golf course. I used to make a beeline from our house to the Bakery when I wanted one of Melissa’s bacon and cheddar scone, but that was before I gave up carbohydrates twenty pounds ago. Now I take my time and enjoy the journey—except the errant ones on the golf course, or the golf off-course as I sometimes call it.

Our culture is built along straight lines these days. Fast food, the twenty-four hour news cycle, instant gratification in all its cyber forms. It would be a crying shame if we’ve lost the ability to meander every once in a while. So if it seems to you that you’re always rushing from Point A to Point B, go a little off course just for the fun of it. Take an intentional wrong turn or explore that neglected back road and breathe some free airtime along the way. You might arrive at your destination a wee bit late, but I bet you’ll have a good story to tell.

I’ll be right back.Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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.