A.W. Sherwood, 69, founded bay foundation His concern for Chesapeake led to environmental group

December 22, 1996|By Ronnie Greene | Ronnie Greene,SUN STAFF

Arthur W. Sherwood, whose love of nature led him to create the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and whose passion for politics led him to run for Baltimore mayor, died Friday in his home in Bolton Hill.

Close friends said that Mr. Sherwood, 69, had been battling prostate cancer for a year and that he took his own life.

"I don't think I could ever be in the Chesapeake Bay or in its marshes from now on without thinking of Arthur," said William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Mr. Sherwood was a visionary who took action when others took pause, who solved problems by rolling up his sleeves and challenging City Hall.

His legacy is richest in the water and waves of the bay.

In the mid-1960s, Mr. Sherwood created the foundation after huddling with a handful of friends who shared his concern for the bay's survival. The organization, incorporated in 1967, has grown to a $10 million operation with 80,000 dues-paying members.

"He really stood up long before it was in vogue and spoke about the need for active environmental protection," Mr. Baker said. "In 30 years, his idea went from a small group of volunteers to the largest regional conservation organization in the country."

Along the way, Mr. Sherwood helped fight efforts to build oil refineries on the bay. He wrote a book, "Understanding the Chesapeake." He also launched an educational program that continues today, with 36,000 students and teachers from Virginia to Pennsylvania leaving the classroom and studying on the bay each year.

It all began with a brainstorm.

"He had the idea back in the mid-60s that individual citizens who loved the bay should be part of its restoration," Mr. Baker said. "And he had a great talent to inspire people to action, and inspire them to see what the bay could be once again.

"He used to joke that, in the early days, not everybody agreed with the mission of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, that the members were perceived to be kooks."

For Mr. Sherwood, cutting against the grain was nothing new.

In 1967, when he won the Republican primary for the Baltimore mayoral race, he offered some fresh -- and occasionally controversial -- ideas.

During a luncheon for 50 business people in the 1960s, he suggested that the United States halt the bombings in Vietnam, gradually withdraw its troops and return military and political responsibilities to the South Vietnamese.

Afterward, he was lambasted in some quarters. "I have been called coward, traitor, defeatist, Communist, pacifist, idiot, uninformed, opportunistic -- to mention just the principal categories," he acknowledged in a 1967 interview in The Sun.

But Mr. Sherwood believed it was an issue worth fighting for, arguing that the billions of dollars the government was spending in Vietnam would be better spent in the nation's cities such as Baltimore. The British Broadcasting Corp., intrigued, sent a crew to film a speech by Mr. Sherwood at the Johns Hopkins University.

Outspent about 6-1, and seeking votes in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, he was soundly defeated by Thomas J. D'Alesandro III.

But for Mr. Sherwood, life had neither begun nor ended with politics.

The day he announced his bid for mayor, he had just finished a two-week trip aboard his yacht, Sea Witch III, and was awash in enthusiasm for the Chesapeake Bay. When he lost the election, he drew a seafarer's analogy.

"Taking a leaf from the skippers I have sailed with over the years, when you do well, you credit your crew and when you do poorly, you blame yourself," he said.

Born in Baltimore on March 13, 1927, Mr. Sherwood was raised near Towson. He attended the Calvert, McDonogh and Gilman schools, earned an undergraduate degree at Kenyon College in Ohio and a law degree from the University of Maryland.

In 1952, he married a law school classmate, Suzanne Ruth. His wife described him yesterday as "Vital and loving. Articulate. Dynamic."

He became president of the Blair-Sherwood Realty Corp., then landed a job in the legal department of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway Co.

In 1954, he ran for Maryland's 4th District congressional seat, then in the city, but lost to incumbent Democrat George H. Fallon.

Mr. Sherwood then became Maryland director of the Federal Housing Administration, a plum assignment for a 28-year-old attorney. Soon, he was lured to Washington as special assistant to the administrator of the U.S. Housing and Home Finance Agency.

By 1960, he was back in Baltimore and won a seat on the Republican City Committee, aligning himself with the so-called Young Turks of the Republican Party.

The next year, he was appointed to a position on the three-member city Board of Elections.

Mr. Sherwood, a detail man, began investigating the board's books and went public with allegations of vote tampering and influence peddling. A grand jury investigation substantiated most of Mr. Sherwood's charges and began a series of reforms.

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