“Most of what became our woods in 1981 was a farm family’s pasture 40 years ago. We didn’t have the decades to wait for honey-scented flowers to appear again on their own timetable. We also wanted to be able to smell the wild azaleas of the Smokies and Blue Ridge, of the north Florida river forests and the Carolinas,” Joe Browder wrote in the third issue of New Bay Times, which would become Bay Weekly.
On May 20, 1993, as the native azaleas bloomed, the gardener — Joe — had been at work a decade reshaping the “cut and regrown woods” surrounding the hilltop home he shared with his wife, Louise Dunlap. As well as those Hammocksweets — named, he noted, by “the word once used in the deepest South to describe a patch of woods in otherwise grassy, marshy low country” — he planted “14 other native American azalea species and hybrids.”
Over 35 years, Joe’s woods matured into an encyclopedia of beloved species, diverse magnolias sharing place of pride with native azaleas, making “the air more fragrant, the woods
brighter, the hummingbirds’ and butterflies’ menus more diverse, our lives on the Bay richer.”
In an era when “genetic genies are out of the bottle — with millions of non-native, nursery-bred azaleas planted in Bay country — Joe was not an advocate of punctilious correctness. He believed in making the best of the world in which we find ourselves and preserving what we have left. He not only planted but also lived and worked by that philosophy.
Joe and Louise lived in Fairhaven, in Southern Anne Arundel County, overlooking Herring Bay. But they worked as environmental lobbyists in Washington. Political animals, we called them, for their intensity and ability to speak to all sides on an issue. Not all of Joe’s clients were perfect; some were genies well out of the bottle, interests that Browder could nudge into earth-friendlier directions.
Joe balanced what must be by devoting himself, pro bono, to causes that, if lost, would make our world a far poorer place. In the Florida Everglades, Joe is being recalled as legendary for his success in holding back development.
A former TV reporter in Florida turned advocate, Joe helped secure protections for the threatened Big Cypress Swamp, and he helped add vast swaths of sensitive lands and waters to the National Park system. He was a key player in stopping construction — already under way — of a destructive commercial airport in the Everglades.
In a Miami Herald obituary this week, Nathaniel Reed, a former top Interior Department official, cited Joe’s “incredible energy and determination” that helped bring about an order from then President Richard Nixon to stop funding for the jetport.
Closer to home, in the mid-1990s Joe negotiated between citizen advocates of SACReD — South County Citizens for Responsible Development — and then County Executive John Gary to broker the deal that preserved Franklin Point, Shady Side’s largest tract of undeveloped waterfront land. Franklin Point is now a 477-acre state park, supported by the West/Rhode Riverkeeper so it can be open daily from dawn to dusk.
“We really do need to be careful,” Joe wrote in that reflection for old New Bay Times. “The air in these Fairhaven woods will be as sweet for the people who live here 40 years from now, if the families and communities of the Chesapeake are lucky, and vigilant.”
Joe was vigilant, and we have been lucky — through, in no small part, the work he did to make it so.
Joe and Louise had decades. They lived among azaleas and magnolias, in sight of Chesapeake waters for 35 years. But they did not have decades to lose. Joe Browder died, at home with Louise, in Fairhaven, Sunday, September 18, 2016.
Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; email@example.com