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What's Up Magazine

What’s Up? Visionaries: Robert A. Pascal

Jan 19, 2016 04:12PM ● By Cate Reynolds
At age 81, entrepreneur, politician, and philanthropist, Robert A. Pascal, says, “I’m still looking to climb mountains.” Although he moves more slowly these days, he still has much to do because new challenges are what drive him. Lately, giving back to the community is what concerns him most.

I meet him at St. Michaels Harbour Inn, Marina & Spa, one of his former businesses, now owned by his grandson, Robert, A.W. Pascal, along with the Bistro in St. Michaels and Mason’s Restaurant in Easton. Like his grandfather, he’s brimming with ideas to improve and expand these enterprises.

Bob Pascal first made his fortune with his successful business, United Propane, which he later sold in 2003. “In 1959, I was offered a business opportunity by my in-laws to run a small gas company in Glen Burnie. That was sold and I bought the Maryland operation—United Propane.” We hustled and knocked on doors to get business.”

During the ensuing years, the company grew from 12 to 150 employees and became one of the top 25 propane companies in the country.

As it grew, so did Anne Arundel County and his interest began to shift toward politics. After someone challenged him by saying he could never get elected, Pascal was determined to prove that person wrong.

In 1970, running as a Republican, he won a seat in the State Senate. In 1974, he became Anne Arundel County Executive—serving two terms. He recounts some of the issues that the county faced at that time.

Managing the county’s growth was a major challenge, which he met by putting in strict controls. After holding community meetings in the schools, Pascal became appalled by many of the inadequate and overcrowded buildings and soon set out to construct more and better schools.

Also concerned about the health and welfare of the county’s older citizens, he conceived the idea of opening senior centers to provide services to them. By 1979, three centers were in place—the second being the Robert Pascal Center in Glen Burnie. “My grandparents were treated like a king and queen,” he says.

Another challenge was to preserve open space.”We bought a 288-acre farm from Henry Kinder to use as a park,” he remarks. “I said, Henry, if you sell this property to me, I’ll name the park after you and we shook hands on it. When developers offered Kinder more money, he replied, ‘Nah, I made a deal with Bob.’” Kinder Farm Park is now a county treasure.

In 1982, Pascal ran for governor, but was defeated by incumbent, Harry Hughes.

“We got beat, but it was worth it. You don’t always get to play on a champion team,” says the former football star. He got to play again, however, when he was chosen to be Secretary of Appointments for Governor Schaefer in 1989–95. “As a Republican, I asked him, ‘Governor, are you sure?’ ‘Yeah, I’m sure, he said.’ I got to be great friends with him.”

Much of Robert’s character has been shaped by his family, which at one time consisted of 12 relatives living above a bakery shop in Belleville, New Jersey. “It was a great way to grow up,” he remembers. When he turned 12, his family moved to Bloomfield, New Jersey, where his father worked as a school administrator.

From junior high on, Bob’s passion was football. A football scholarship to Duke University enabled him to attend college, where he earned first team All-American honors and the team’s Most Valuable Player award. Upon graduation, he was recruited by the Baltimore Colts. He turned them down, however, since he needed more income to provide for his family after his father’s death from cancer at age 48.

During his successful life, he’s pondered the challenging question of how best to give back to the community. His answer—donating a million dollars to the University of Maryland’s Orthopedic Center after his successful knee replacement surgery. Two million to the Baltimore-Washington Medical Center to help build a state of the art emergency room. Ten million has gone to his alma mater, of which six were used to help build the Pascal Field House.

His latest endeavor has been the purchase of a former DuPont property he’s since renamed Point Pleasant, consisting of 950 acres and bordered by more than eight miles of shoreline. He’s agreed to give up development rights and instead donate a permanent conservation easement to the state in exchange for tax breaks. He houses a retreat for Wounded Warriors here and has plans for school children to visit the preserve.

Today he enjoys being with his extended family when about 70 come together for the holidays; yet he misses the ones he’s lost. His father, mother, and brother are gone but not forgotten. He’s also lost one of his four daughters, Robin, who died at age 38. Buried beside a pond he dug for her next to his Easton home, he says, “She’ll always be in my heart.”

After his passing, how does he want to be remembered? He thinks for a moment—then says “The old boy did something right.” He sure did.

—Anne McNulty