Pete Melbourne was former mayor, Main Street entrepreneur

Former Laurel Mayor Percival Granville "Pete" Melbourne III could play all the angles.

As a 15-year-old student at Laurel High School in the 1940s, Melbourne, who didn't have a driver's license, purchased a pickup truck. While others may have used it for joyrides, Melbourne, according to his son, Carter Melbourne, enlisted older kids to drive him around Laurel and perform contract work on the city's sidewalks and streets.

Melbourne's project as a teenager would set the stage for a life of entrepreneurship and public service that included one term as mayor, two as a City Council member and 45 years as a business owner on Main Street.

Melbourne died Nov. 13 in Ocean City. He was 84.

"He was really quite a person," said former Laurel Mayor Joe Robison, who grew up just a few houses from Melbourne's family. "He was an individual that went and got what he wanted, but what was good for Laurel was good for him. He was something."

A funeral service was held Nov. 18 at Donaldson Funeral Home in Laurel followed by burial at Maryland National Memorial Cemetery in Laurel.

Melbourne, who was born in Laurel on June 1, 1929, served on the Laurel City Council from 1958 to 1961 and was Laurel's mayor for one term, from 1962-64. Melbourne also spent more than 65 years in the community as a businessman, activist and volunteer.

"He was always committed to Laurel," said Bobby Thomas, a childhood friend of Melbourne. "He was always doing something for the good of the citizens around him."

While Melbourne was all for public service, he was first a businessman and entrepreneur, recalls his son.

Carter Melbourne said his father got his start as a real estate broker by building gas stations for Shell Oil. That soon led to building other commercial properties, which led to the establishment of a brokerage firm that grew from Melbourne and one secretary into a 100-employee outfit — Melbourne, Feagin, and Hammersmith Real Estate Office — with annual revenues greater than $100 million.

Melbourne also turned his pastime of horse racing into a business as well, and opened a breeding farm in West Laurel in 1962.

"We've got boxes and boxes of winner circle photos," said Carter Melbourne. "I don't know how many horses he owned over the years. ... He was very proud of that horse farm."

In addition, Melbourne served as president of the Lion's Club and president of the Laurel Chamber of Commerce.

According to Mayor Craig Moe, one of Melbourne's lasting legacies was his involvement in the city attaining jurisdiction over its own zoning during Melbourne's term as mayor.

Moe said other municipalities today are trying to get authority over zoning, but that it's "a fight for some municipalities. ... Back in the 60s [Melbourne] had a vision."

According to Moe, the ramifications of Melbourne's efforts are still being felt today, as Laurel remains the only municipality in Prince George's County with its own zoning authority. According to Laurel city spokesman Pete Piringer, that authority makes the zoning process more efficient and requires less time for developers to obtain zoning approval, which recently helped the city work with developers of Laurel Towne Centre at the former Laurel Mall.

"We wouldn't have been able to do what we did at the Towne Centre if we didn't have the zoning authority," Moe said. "We wouldn't have a say in what was built on this site or any other site in the city" without zoning authority.

And while Melbourne will be remembered for wearing many hats, they all have one thing in common; they were worn in Laurel.

"He used to say, 'Laurel is the greatest place to live and is in the center of everything,' " said Carter Melbourne. "That's what we were taught growing up."

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