By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun
4:59 PM EST, March 4, 2013
Gilbert Thornton Renaut, a retired federal attorney who became an Annapolis activist, mayoral candidate and neighborhood problem-solver, died of a heart attack Feb. 27 at his home in the capital's Murray Hill community. He was 66.
"Gilbert had an abiding passion for Annapolis," Annapolis Mayor Joshua J. Cohen said in a statement. "His decades-long record of involvement as a civic leader, as a member of numerous boards and commissions, and as a candidate for public office greatly enriched our quality of life. I will miss his keen intellect, his wry sense of humor, and his spirit."
Born in Phoenix, Ariz., he grew up on Park Avenue in Baltimore's Bolton Hill. His father was Frank Edward Renaut, an official of Maryland News Co., and his mother was Ruth Easton Renaut, an Impressionist painter.
He was a 1964 graduate of City College, where he played lacrosse. He earned a degree at St. John's College and was a University of Maryland School of Law graduate. He was the Maryland Law Review editor from 1974 to 1975.
In the early 1970s, he lived on Reservoir Hill near Druid Hill Park and taught mathematics at Walbrook and Edmondson high schools.
Mr. Renaut moved to Annapolis in 1975 and commuted to Washington in his capacity as a federal attorney. He twice ran unsuccessfully for mayor, and in campaign literature said that he became interested in Democratic politics "after being inspired by President Kennedy and the civil rights movement."
He was a federal litigation lawyer and, according to his campaign literature, was awarded the Secretary of Labor's Distinguished Achievement Award for his espousal of injured maritime workers' rights.
Mr. Renaut also won a $2.1 billion judgment against Exxon while working as a Department of Energy lawyer.
He became an activist in Annapolis and entered a battle to save the old Severn River Bridge, a structure that was later demolished and replaced.
In his Annapolis mayoral campaign materials, he described himself as a "seasoned mediator" whose "greatest talent is bringing people together to find common ground." He called himself a 1960s liberal.
"You must ask yourself if you want leadership that blames, that points fingers, that denounces those with whom it disagrees, or if you want real leadership that leads by example and not by making enemies," he said during his 2005 campaign.
Mr. Renaut was president of the Ward One Residents Association, a group that represented people living in downtown Annapolis' historic district. He waged a long fight to uphold a 2 a.m. bar closing hour.
As a mayoral candidate, he pledged to "create an inclusive, transparent decision-making process." He said he wanted the city to become a "model of civic engagement and shared prosperity."
He ran again in 2009 but dropped out of the race shortly before the primary.
In the mid-1980s, he built what a Sun article called "his dream house," a residence in the Murray Hill neighborhood. Built of post-and-beam construction, the home featured shingled exteriors walls and conformed to building standards of 1840.
"At some point, I became less interested in just having a house and more interested in having a sense of pride about something I had done well," he said in the 1986 Sun feature article, which detailed his insistence on historic authenticity.
"He was a leader in the preservation effort in downtown Annapolis," said Joseph Budge, an Annapolis resident who is current president of the Ward One Residents Association. "He was self-deprecating and did not seek the spotlight. He was thoughtful and had strong opinions, and was a strong advocate for the quality of life. He made reasoned arguments and was a joy to work with."
Mr. Renaut was a founding parent of Montessori International Children's House and was a past chairman of the Murray Hill Residents Association.
He was also a past president of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association and a past chairman of the Annapolis Race Week. He enjoyed sailing on his boat, Celeritas.
He was appointed to the Mayor's Commemorative Committee and was 1987 chairman of the Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission. He was a past member of the Board of Supervisors of Elections and the Annapolis Comprehensive Plan Citizens Advisory Committee.
He enjoyed photography and developed his own film. He collected antiques and read history. He also did family genealogy.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the John M. Taylor Funeral Home, 147 Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis.
Survivors include two sons, Jonathan Easton Renaut of Washington and Samuel Charles Thompson Renaut of Scottsdale, Ariz.; a daughter, Elizabeth Renaut Stauffer of Stevensville; and four grandchildren. His 1975 marriage to Deborah Schwartz ended in divorce.
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