Gary J. Arthur Sr.

Howard County Direct of Rec and Parks

May 31, 2010|By Frank D. Roylance, The Baltimore Sun

Gary J. Arthur, Sr., who oversaw major additions to public recreational opportunities in Ocean City and in Howard County during his tenures as recreation director in those two jurisdictions, died of metastatic liver cancer Thursday in his Ellicott City home. He was 62.

"He did everything in a big way," said longtime friend and co-worker Laura Wetherald. "He was very proud of all the parks and facilities that opened under his direction. … All he had to do was say, 'We're going to do this,' and people were on board."

During the last days of his life, Arthur kept in touch with his staff and had his wife, Martha J. Arthur, drive him to check on several of the projects he helped to develop.

And when Howard County Executive Ken Ulman called him two weeks ago from the Wine in the Woods festival the parks department sponsors each year, "The first words out of his mouth were, 'How's the crowd?'" Mr. Ulman recalled.

"He loved the work that he did," Mrs. Arthur said. "Everywhere you go in this county, there's something of Gary."

Gary Arthur was born in Baltimore on July 4, 1947. He graduated from the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 1965 and turned his prowess on the gridiron into a football scholarship to Clemson University.

His son, Alexander David Arthur, of Mount Airy, said his dad played during his junior and senior years as both guard and linebacker under the legendary Clemson coach Frank Howard.

"I remember him saying they had winning seasons, but I know they could not quite get the ACC championship," the younger Arthur said. Several team members went on to play professional football.

"The team still keeps in touch," Mrs. Arthur said. "Several on the team went on to the pros."

Mr. Arthur graduated from Clemson in 1969 with a bachelor of science degree in recreation and parks administration. He worked briefly as an assistant supervisor of playgrounds in Charleston, S.C., before returning to Maryland to work in Baltimore County's Department of Recreation and Parks.

In 1972 he left the county to become Director of Recreation in Ocean City, whose population swells in summer from 6,000 to 200,000. During his six-year tenure there he added 39 new recreational programs for the city's residents, and used state and federal grants to help expand the town's recreation and parks budget from $22,000 a year to $239,000.

In 1979, at age 31, Mr. Arthur was hired for an $18,900 job as recreation program manager in Howard County. But a little more than a year later he was made chief of the county's Bureau of Recreation.

In 1994, he reorganized the bureau to increase efficiency and supervision, and won two national awards for program quality. And, in 1998, Mr. Arthur was named director of recreation and parks, the post he held at his death.

"We won a lot of awards and accreditations under his direction, and Gary symbolized excellence," said Ms. Wetherald, who succeeded Mr. Arthur as recreation chief.

The county's recreation program was among fewer than 100 in the nation to receive accreditation from the Council of the Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies. "He was very proud … to be able to do that for the county," Ms. Wetherald said.

Howard County was also recognized twice by Sports Illustrated several years ago for the quality of its sports and recreational programs. In 2006, the county received the Maryland Recreation and Parks Association's Citation Award.

During his tenure, Mr. Arthur oversaw the development of the Glenwood Community Center, Western Regional Park, Meadowbrook Athletic Complex and Park, Blandair Regional Park, the North Laurel Community Center and Park, and the Robinson Nature Center, some of which are still under construction, or soon will be.

Some projects stirred some controversy, Mr. Ulman said. But Mr. Arthur was skilled at listening and working with the affected communities.

During a meeting in Elkridge late last week, Mr. Ulman recalled, a resident who had learned of Arthur's death spoke up. "He said, 'I often disagreed with Gary, but I always respected him.' "

Mr. Arthur "was always pushing for a community center that needed to be a little bigger, or needed something else in it," Mr. Ulman said. "It's great to deal with somebody that passionate about their department and what they were doing. My motto for my department heads is 'You dream big; I'll tell you whether we can afford it.' "

"He wanted to make sure we were delivering the best; he didn't want to sacrifice quality," Mr. Ulman said. Mr. Arthur believed quality parks and recreational opportunities were "one of the reasons people want to live in Howard County, and I agree with him."

Some of Mr. Arthur's proposals, nevertheless, had to be put off for fiscal reasons, Mr. Ulman said.

Mr. Arthur's first marriage, to the former Suzanne Walters, ended in divorce. He met Martha J. Mauriello in 1999, after a friend arranged a golf date. Rain changed their plans, but they were married the following year.

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