Vol. 10, No. 29

July 18-24, 2002

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Farewell, Neighbor Gingell
by Sandra Olivetti Martin

We’re losing our memory.

Chesapeake Country’s longest serving citizens are moving away, leaving no forwarding address.

With their departure, all the time we might have spent with them is gone. All the questions we might have asked will go forever unanswered.

This is a truth that’s hitting close to home. From the Owings Cliffs partner to my own village, Fairhaven Cliffs, we lost elder statesman Vernon Ragan Gingell on July 2. He was 82.

Not that Vern Gingell left us wondering about much.

New Bay Times was just a few months old and not yet weekly when we first heard from our neighbor Vern as a correspondent. We’d printed a story, a good story, about a shipwreck off our very beach. But Vern had seen with his own eyes the sinking of the Levin J. Marvel. He got out his yellow tablet and recounted the tragedy, skipping lines to make his upright, semi-cursive more legible.

The morning of August 12, 1955, was pretty much the same as any other August morning, except that [Hurricane] Connie was approaching that part of the Chesapeake Bay just east of Herring Bay … Since sea nettles seem to mysteriously disappear when these phenomena occur, the author and several other hardy young men decided to swim in the storm, he wrote.

As we frolicked in the surf, we noticed, to our surprise, a three-masted ship appear out of the misty haze. She seemed to be under sail and moved ever so slowly … The swimmers gazed in awe and puzzlement at the sight …

In that narrative and many more to come, Vern pulled back time’s curtains and we saw through his eyes times and places where, without his magic, we could never have gone.

Boats and water figured in many of his stories, as they did at his memorial service at Friendship United Methodist Church, where neighbors and friends spoke of shared adventures.

“Vern’s mother gave me my first boat,” recollected Joe Veith, another of those hardy young swimmers the day of the sinking of the Levin Marvel, a friend since boyhood.

“He helped save my father’s life,” said Alan Becke. That rescued father sitting at his side, Becke recounted a long-ago swimming accident off the old community pier.

“He organized us into the Fairhaven Sailing Club,” said Peggy McCaig, marveling decades later at Vern’s knowledge and his patience with the ineptitude of novice sailors.

The boats they likely sailed were the subject of another of Vern’s stories. He took us back to the 1930s to tell about “the challenge that marked the beginning of much-heralded Chesapeake 20s,” and of the unbeatable Vanity, designed by Charles Mower and built by Os Owings — a boat Vern himself would later own.

Well as Vern remembered the old times, he lived in — and shaped — our times. An engineer, he served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; a pilot, he served with the Federal Aviation Administration. Combining his skills, he helped to plan both Washington National and Dulles International airports.

His background imbued him with high regard for professional expertise, and it was as a champion of professional decision makers that Bay Weekly, and other papers as well, heard much more from Vern Gingell.

In the mid-1990s, Vern’s neck of Southern Anne Arundel County, especially the Shady Side peninsula and Deale, became a hotbed of citizen opposition as land-use plans long ago approved by county government neared development. As chair of the South County Environmental Commission, Vern had been active in many of those approvals. In letters to the editor, he castigated opponents to the development of a subdivision on Franklin Point in Shady Side and a Safeway shopping center in Deale.

Now death has closed that debate, and for all that Vern had to say, there’s so much more that we will never know.

Vernon Gingell leaves behind his companion, Constance Marie Christensen; his daughter, Debra Gingell of Fairhaven; and his son, Terry Gingell of Houston.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly