Entrepreneurs of Yesteryear Reveal History of Business in St. Mary's

Commentary by Bob Schaller, St. Mary's County Dept. of Economic Development

On Friday we co-hosted with the J.T. Daugherty Center a Breakfast with the Founding Business Leaders in St. Mary's County. Actually, these were the founders of the St. Mary's County business community that emerged after WWII. The panel was a dream team of entrepreneurs who started their enterprises some 50 years ago here when the economic landscape was far different. Here's a quick summary of each presenter.

Tom Daugherty, President of Maryland Bank & Trust (founded by his father in 1959), gave opening remarks and moderated the discussion. Tom talked about his dad, Jack Daugherty, as a young Marine aviator during WWII who, after a stint as the charter class of Navy test pilots at NAS Patuxent River, envisioned Lexington Park as a commercial town center and pursued its development to include a furniture and appliance store, radio station, newspaper, bank, and other essential amenities. He recognized several long-time business leaders in Lexington Park including Jack Rue of Rue's Roost, and Jack Gelrud of Rexall Drug Store. How did one keep track of all the Jacks at the time?

Walter Blair, founder of W.R. Blair, talked about starting his watch repair business in a small space in the back of a Leonardtown shop that eventually sold silver jewelry (at the request of a customer, Mrs. Stieff of the Baltimore Sterling Silver Company). After about a dozen years selling jewelry and related gifts, Mr. Blair expanded the operation and started the Catalog Showroom. At its peak, W.R. Blair's was 5 catalog showrooms from Annapolis to Fredericksburg, operating for 22 years. Mr. Blair retired in 1991 after a 42 year career. His company motto was "Treat the customer royally."

Elmer Brown, born and raised in Drayden, moved to Washington, DC to seek work when Jim Crow laws prevailed. He learned business from his father working at Dent's store, and eventually took to the road, driving for Esso (Exxon) and others. He recalled being the first black to drive for Exxon, how difficult that was, but also how rewarding it was to exceed expectations. He'd go on to run a motel in Waldorf and a cleaning business here in the County (still in operation). One life lesson was "make 3, spend 1" dollars. In other words, watch your funds closely. Most important to him was the revitalization of the Douglass-Tubman community off Chancellor's Run Road.

Ben Burroughs recalled growing up in Mechanicsville and starting his business career at age 12 delivering papers. At 14 he delivered Fuller brushes (including hairbrushes with a lifetime guarantee) on a scooter throughout St. Mary's and Charles Counties. He then drove a truck and soon after entered the insurance business with Tom Waring. He spent some time in public service and served as Deputy Sheriff and Sheriff for 12 years. He bought the Farmers Market & Auction in Charlotte Hall in1963. His talent with land led him to acquire properties and provide housing for thousands of new residents. He has three active subdivisions today.

George "Budweiser" Guy heads Guy Distributing which is celebrating its 75th year of continuous operation in the County. The business was started by his mom and dad as a spinoff of Guy Brothers General Store in Clements. Mr. Guy recalled starting to work in the store at age 10. After graduating high school, he helped run the family business in 1942. He acknowledged his wife and children, all 3 still at the shop, for enabling the distributor to succeed. He also referred to the origin of the 10oz can in the mid 1950s and how that risky product venture turned out to be a strategic boon for the business.

J. Frank Raley, Jr., from Park Hall, served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946. Coming from a family involved in politics and public service, Mr. Raley entered politics in 1955 in the Maryland House of Delegates. He commented how desperately the County needed money in the 1950s. St. Mary's was among the poorest counties in the state. In 1962 he was elected to the Maryland State Senate. He co-founded the water and sewer company that eventually would become METCOM. He co-founded the Tri-County Council in 1964 to move Southern Maryland's common agenda forward in Annapolis. He assisted in creating Historic St. Mary's City and St. Mary's College of Maryland.

H. Thomas "Tom" Waring, president and CEO of Cherry Cove, summed up his life's business ventures as one concerned with shelter. Whether developing communities, building homes, selling insurance, managing mobile home parks and apartment complexes, and constructing hotels and conference facilities, all have to do with providing shelter. He echoed some of the uniqueness of Lexington Park in its early days. He also underscored the importance of affordable housing availability for the many in the services workforce that support our general economy.

Robert E. "Bob" Waxman came to St. Mary's County in 1949 as a college intern at NAS Patuxent River. As an Electronics Engineer, he moved to Webster Field (NESEA) in 1960 to direct operations through a period of rapid program growth in shipboard and other mostly non-aviation platforms. He acknowledged the influence of Joe Knoefel, Navy reservist and civilian entrepreneur, who secured for NESEA the Radio Communications Systems (radio room) work for the Aegis cruiser and destroyer class ships, 84 in total. The innovation of partnering with defense contractors to expand the activity's capability proved successful in many similar NESEA efforts.

While each shared distinct stories, a few basic common themes emerged. Namely, the importance of hard work, risk taking, spending money wisely, valuing employees, and giving back to the community. Not a bad recipe for success for the next 50 years.

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