VIENNA — Family and friends of former Vienna Mayor Russell Brinsfield joined former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley on Tuesday at the town’s waterfront park to formally name the park after the longtime mayor and influential conservationist, and dedicate it in his memory.

Sheltered from the rain in a riverside gazebo made possible in part by Brinsfield’s efforts and vision, current and former elected and appointed state and local officials, townspeople and Brinsfield’s family spoke in turn, sharing memories of the man who was a farmer, family man, and elected and environmental leader.

O’Malley said when he was elected governor, then U.S. Senator from Maryland Barbara Mikulski told him, “The problem with the Chesapeake Bay is that while we have lots of Bay programs, we have yet to figure out a program for the Bay,” an assessment that prompted him to create what became known as the Bay Cabinet.

The governor formed a collaborative circle with high ranking state officials. “With all our good science, with all of the data and all of the maps, we got stuck about a year in,” O’Malley said. “There’s a saying that culture will eat policy for lunch ... we got backed into a corner even though it was a round circle.”

O’Malley received a recommendation from an advisor to consider adding Brinsfield to the Bay Cabinet. “I think he had the skill, and the heart, and the ability to listen and understand where people are coming from,” O’Malley said. “And the imagination to get us out of this stuck place — and that’s what he did.” The former governor cited cover crop policy and oyster aquaculture as exemplars of real progress made by the group with Brinsfield’s help.

“It was almost like we needed a translator, and Russ was that translator,” he said.

Vienna’s town officials presented Brinsfield’s widow, Sandy, and daughter Amanda Fenstermaker with a plaque with an engraved picture of the mayor and an inscription dedicating the park to him in recognition for his efforts to transform it.

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day worked at the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy during Brinsfield’s tenure. “I’m sure that Vienna, like many towns has collective aspiration ... through relationships and through tenacity ... and always through kind eyes and a very gentle voice, Russ brought to Vienna the oxygen needed to muscle towards those aspirations.”

Fenstermaker recalled watching the evolution of the park both as a girl growing up across the street and as Dorchester County’s tourism director for 12 years.

“It was amazing to watch this waterfront that was very industrial looking — not a destination whatsoever — become what it is today,” she said.

“It’s an amazing asset for the community,” she said of the park she uses regularly with her family, “I’m just overwhelmed to think he had such a big role in bringing this to reality.”

“He had vision, he had foresight ... he moved the needle. That’s what his life was like,” Fenstermaker said. “He was willing and he was humble, and he cared deeply for this community, and he used all of his connections for its betterment.”

O’Malley remembered the boat trip with Brinsfield and others from the Vienna waterfront. The former governor’s young son was along on the trip, a journey intend to view eagles and whistling swans. While the weather was cold, the river and birds were beautiful in the sunset.

“I’m watching the beauty of that sunset, and I noticed that Russ was watching my son’s face and his joy at that moment.” O’Malley said that in that moment he saw what was truly important to Brinsfield. “That was the whole world, the beauty of that little boy reflecting the creation he (Brinsfield) so cherished.”

“I know that nothing made him happier, for all of his learning and all of his accomplishments, than to be able to see in the eyes of his grandkids the promise of a better Chesapeake Bay,” O’Malley said.

Fenstermaker had earlier told the story of her young son recently finding her dad’s bedside Bible. When she opened it, tucked in the front cover was a thank you note from O’Malley for that boat trip the Nanticoke River with Brinsfield.

“It was very significant,” she said, “It was a special gift to find that, because I know that was a very special moment for my dad,” she said.

Mike Detmer is a staff writer for the Dorchester Star and Star Democrat based in Maryland. You can reach him at

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