Pride of Baltimore chief charts ambitious course New executive director draws on his diverse past to plan for ship's future

November 30, 1996|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

If there's a common thread in the varied career of Mark Belton, it might be ships.

Belton, a Naval Academy graduate and Navy veteran who grew up on the Eastern Shore, was chosen earlier this month as executive director of Pride of Baltimore Inc., the nonprofit organization that oversees Pride II.

He's ready for the challenges of overseeing the ship whose mission is promoting Maryland in ports around the world, he says.

"There's a lot of work to do," he tells a visitor to his office in the World Trade Center. Through a wall-sized window, he can see a Coast Guard ship and part of the harbor -- a reminder of Maryland's maritime interests.

Belton, 35, who began his job Nov. 19, got aboard in somewhat choppy waters. A hurricane was churning around near the Pride II in the Caribbean, and he had to decide whether the ship should leave for Maryland.

"With the ship in Puerto Rico and Hurricane Marco being down there, we delayed its departure," Belton says.

Such decisions are part of the job for the Pride's new executive director, says Henry A. Rosenberg Jr., who chairs the board of directors of Pride of Baltimore Inc.

"Running day-to-day operations, working with the board and working with our staff" are the director's responsibilities, Rosenberg says.

Belton emerged at the top of a short list of 10 candidates, Rosenberg says, because of his background, a mixture of work in the public and private sectors as well as in the military.

Born in New Jersey, Belton was 10 when his family moved to Queen Anne's County, where his father owned a sawmill. He graduated from Queen Anne's County High School and applied to the Coast Guard Academy, West Point and the Naval Academy. All three accepted him, he says, but he chose the Naval Academy.

"I had three cousins who went to West Point," he says with a smile. "I didn't want to be just like them, but I wanted to have the same type of patriotism."

After graduating from the Naval Academy, he served three tours of duty in the Navy. He was on the USS Seattle, a supply ship attached to a carrier battle group during Operation Desert Shield, did a tour of shore duty at the academy and served on the USS Dewert, a guided missile frigate.

In 1990, he left the Navy (although he remains active as a lieutenant commander in the naval reserves) because he and his wife had started a family and he wanted more time at home. He and his wife, Mary, have three daughters and a son, ranging in age from 3 to 10.

But he didn't leave the academy -- he took a civilian job there as director of external operations for the Naval Academy Athletic Association from 1991 until June, when a reorganization abolished the job. The athletic association, like the Pride of Baltimore Inc., depends on fund-raising for its operating expenses.

Both he and Rosenberg say that his experience at the academy will be useful in his new job. Pride II is owned by the state of Maryland, but its operation is overseen by the nonprofit Pride organization. Operating funds for the 173-foot vessel, a replica of a Baltimore topsail schooner, run about $1 million a year and are raised through a mix of grants and private philanthropy.

He hopes that his background in public service -- he served on the Board of Education in Queen Anne's County and as a county commissioner (a post he resigned to take the Pride II job) -- will help him raise money and negotiate with local governments and the legislature.

And there's the Pride II's schedule to plan. Next year, the ship will cruise the Great Lakes. In 1998, Belton says he hopes to send the ship to Asia -- its most ambitious cruise to date.

His first ride on the ship will come next week, when the Pride II will call at Annapolis before sailing back to Baltimore Dec. 7.

"I'm not a sailor," he says with characteristic self-deprecation. "I learned how at the academy, but haven't done much since."

Pub Date: 11/29/96

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