February 3, 2010

Honoring Senator “Mac” Mathias

We are still absorbing the loss of Senator Charles “Mac” Mathias, who passed away on January 25.  His legacy is one that will last a very long time.

Those of us who love the Chesapeake remember his well-publicized journey around the Bay in 1973 — a remarkable example of leadership.  It was not just that he advocated for the Bay on Capital Hill.  Mathias listened.  He traveled to small Bayside towns to hear what people had to say, including farmers and watermen.  He listened to scientists, scores of them.  And because he was a U.S. senator, he brought public attention with him.  By the end of his journey he had rallied broad support — not just from one advocacy group, but from a large swath of the region’s citizenry.  He helped us understand that something was wrong with the Bay, and that we had to do something about it.

In recognition of his pivotal role in focusing our best energies on restoring the Chesapeake, two decades ago the Sea Grant programs of Maryland and Virginia and the Chesapeake Research Consortium came together to create the Mathias Medal.  This medal honors researchers who have made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the Bay — special individuals whose work has affected policy as well as science. Since 1990, the award has been given only five times.

Each time it’s awarded, it honors the legacy of “Mac” Mathias.

Mathias was happy to give his name to this award.  In an interview we did with him years ago, he said he was especially pleased to see it bestowed on researchers he had come to respect.  Researchers like Eugene Cronin, a leading expert on crabs but also a general advocate for science in service of policy — called by some the Grandfather of the Chesapeake.

When we conceived of this award, we did not consider whether Senator Mathias was a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent.  Frankly, it didn’t matter.  He was a leader.  He was the person who walked the extra mile to rally all of us around the challenges that confronted us — especially civil rights and the abuse of the Chesapeake Bay.

His leadership is a reminder of a less polarized time.  A reminder of the skill it takes to cross the aisle, to get the job done.  For that skill, and for so much more, we are deeply grateful.

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