Chesapeake Quarterly
Jack Greer Sets Sail
Jack Greern b
Jack Greer sailing aboard his 40-foot sloop Moon Rise. Credit: Skip Brown.

Accolades Over the course of his career with Maryland Sea Grant, Jack Greer has been one of the most effective voices for bringing science to policy for the restoration of Chesapeake Bay, says Jonathan Kramer, Maryland Sea Grant Director. "Jack's role as facilitator and synthesizer has often been not only catalytic, but the glue that has held these groups together." Below are some of Jack's major efforts and awards.

Coastal and Environmental Policy Program (CEPP); director

Environmental Finance Center (EFC); founding director

1993 Environmental Management of Enclosed Coastal Seas (EMECS); organizer, facilitator

Governor's Chesapeake Bay Watershed Blue Ribbon Finance Panel; facilitator

Bi-State Blue Crab Advisory Committee; facilitator

Chesapeake Futures: Choices for the 21st Century; author and editor (with Don Boesch)

Awards The President's Award for Excellence in the Application of Science, from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, 2005

APEX Awards for Magazine Writing, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010

Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council (for Fiction), 1999

Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council (for Fiction), 2000

Baltimore Artscape Award (for Memoir), 2000

JACK GREER LEAVES MARYLAND SEA GRANT WITH A PLAN. Shortly after the hurricane season ends and well before the winter gales begin, he'll weigh anchor on his 40-foot sloop and sail south out of the Chesapeake Bay, headed for the Lesser Antilles. He and his wife, Bobbie, will overwinter in the Caribbean, waiting for the weather to warm so they can head north then east across the Atlantic to Europe. It's a plan that calls for work: weeks to get the 40-footer ready to sail, weeks to repair what breaks under sail, then weeks to repair the repairs.

He leaves behind years of work, a network of colleagues and friends, and a 31-year career with Sea Grant that began with part-time work as a grad student and expanded to include jobs like science writer, publications editor, and Assistant Director for Communications and Public Affairs. He also served as Acting Director for Maryland Sea Grant, the founding director of the Environmental Finance Center (EFC), and became a key player in the kingdom of acronyms, serving with CEPP, EMECS and BBCAC (see Accolades, right).

A sailboat is an appropriate exit since it was a boatyard that first brought him to Sea Grant in June of 1979. Back then I was Communications Coordinator for the new Sea Grant program that Rita Colwell was heading up, and I needed help. We were trying to create publications and films that would tell the story of Bay science and how it could apply to the environmental issues facing the Chesapeake. As a Ph.D. student in English at the University of Maryland, Jack arrived in my office with writing samples and a resume and a strong recommendation from one of my friends in the English Department. The writing samples were mostly academic essays, not exactly proof he would soon write graceful prose about marine science. The best thing he had going was my friend's recommendation. She was smart and she knew smart when she saw it.

The second best thing he had going was a gap in his resume. It dutifully listed his patient academic progress: an English degree from the University of Virginia, two years teaching in the middle schools of Appomattox, Virginia, a Master's Degree from the University of Richmond, and several years in the Ph.D. program at the University of Maryland. But there was one break in this studious litany: a dropout year when he left grad school, buckled on a tool belt and went to work in a Bayside boat yard. That showed a connection with the Chesapeake, but better yet, it showed creativity and imagination that I seldom saw during my own spell in grad school. That was the connection that got him hired. Never trust a man or woman who never dreamed of dropping out.

Jack did more than dream about it. "I woke up one morning," he says, "and realized I'd been in a classroom since I was six years old." When he wasn't in the classroom, he was often on a river. He spent his childhood summers in Gloucester, Virginia riding down from Richmond and out through the arching woods to where the world suddenly opened wide at the York River. There he launched self-made boats and watched them sink, then inner tubes, then rowboats he'd have to bail out, then small sailboats that carried him out on the river. Years later when he wanted a break from grad school, he headed for a nearby river and went back to working on boats. It didn't look like a plan, but it turned into one.

Heading for a river opened the world again, leading him to Maryland Sea Grant and turning him into a writer and an expert on Bay policy issues. We put him to work for four years writing weekly Bay Shore Reports for newspapers, more than 200 short essays and columns about natural history and cultural history, about boating and fishing, watermen and scientists, the turning of the seasons, and the rising effort to revive a declining estuary. It was the education of an environmental writer and thinker. There were longer pieces for Sea Grant magazines and more responsibilities, especially when he became director of the communications program. That meant writing proposals, surviving site reviews, managing people, and juggling hundreds of administrative details and dozens of committees.

Everybody has a river not taken, usually several, and for Jack they were law and politics, interests that came alive again in his professional career. In high school he served in the student senate and in grad school he was first president of the English Graduate Organization (EGO). In the contentious world of Chesapeake Bay policy issues, he established a reputation as a respected facilitator, able to manage meetings focused on divisive issues and through his smarts, his patience, and his good humor lead competing groups toward common ground.

Those same traits, along with his writing talent, made him a great editor, not just with writers at Sea Grant (who can be prickly about changes in their prose) but with scientists and politicians who leaned on him to edit, rewrite or co-write major reports, including one on the financing of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup and another on future scenarios for the Bay's ecosystem. As one of those prickly Sea Grant writers, that is the talent I'll miss the most. Jack was the best editor I ever worked with — even though we often butted heads over levels of language, metaphors, dialogue, narrative hooks, nut grafs, turning points, even serial commas, as well as dozens of other issues that writers worry about in working out an article or finishing a film script. Every head butting helped the piece or the film and most of them left us laughing.

Among all those duties, the miracle he managed was this: the writer never disappeared beneath the burden. He finished his Ph.D., wrote articles and essays for Sea Grant, and created poetry and fiction — usually while holed up in a cabin in the hills of Virginia. Last year he published Abraham's Bay, a collection of dramatic sea stories created from a year-long sailing trip to the Caribbean.

He finally left the classroom, but Jack never left the university. The home base for every Sea Grant program around the country is a university, often the land-grant university, the institution that democratized higher education in America and spurred the application of science to agriculture, aquaculture, natural resources, and environmental studies.

Bay science, says Jack, has done much to clarify the causes of decline in the Chesapeake, but major questions remain, especially questions about how to reverse the decline. "I wish there was a clearer picture about what really needs to be done," he says, "a better way to fix the Bay without driving people out of business."

 


Rivers lead to oceans. After wintering in the Caribbean, Jack and Bobbie Greer will weigh anchor in late spring and head north to Bermuda, then east across the Atlantic. Barring bad winds and rogue waves, they’ll reach landfall several weeks later in the Azores and drop anchor behind the breakwater at a town called Horta on the island of Faial. With its white stone houses and red tile rooftops and black sand beaches, Horta is a stop­over famous among sailors bound across the Atlantic. Both Greers will go to work repairing the boat and Jack will walk the docks gathering sea stories for another book. Then they’ll light out for the Continent. With more sailing and more stories, more work of noble note may yet be done. That, at least, is the plan.

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