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Dr. Torrey C. Brown, state natural resources secretary, dies at 77

Medical doctor became city delegate; as secretary of natural resources, he banned fishing for rockfish

By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

5:05 PM EDT, April 24, 2014

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Dr. Torrey C. Brown, the former secretary of Maryland's Department of Natural Resources who banned fishing for rockfish for a time in the 1980s, died of heart disease Sunday at Anne Arundel Medical Center. The Severna Park resident was 77.

Born in Chicago, he was a graduate of the University of Chicago High School. He earned a degree at Wheaton College and then came to Baltimore, where he earned a degree at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dr. Brown remained at Hopkins for further medical training and joined the faculty as an associate professor of medicine in 1974. He worked in kidney ailments and was chief of the Hopkins emergency room. In the late 1960s, he headed the creation of the East Baltimore Medical Program.

In 1970, he was elected to the House of Delegates from Baltimore — he then lived in the Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood of North Baltimore. He was among the early members of the New Democratic Club, which formed a racially integrated ticket for the September primary that year. Friends said he was a popular and effective campaigner. Because he was a physician, his constituents discussed their medical problems and occasionally displayed recent surgical scars as he went door to door in neighborhoods such as Remington.

In his first year in Annapolis, he and fellow physician Dr. Aris T. Allen, an Annapolis state senator, were credited with saving the life of Del. Russell O. Hickman, who suffered a heart attack during a debate.

In 1979, he became the chair of the House Environmental Matters Committee. In 1983, Gov. Harry R. Hughes named him Maryland secretary of natural resources.

"He was easy to underestimate," said Mr. Hughes, who lives in Denton. "Torrey was an intelligent guy who really liked running the natural resources department. He had a sense of humor that made him very attractive. He wasn't loud. He was a quiet guy. He had a knack for working well with people."

Dr. Brown was reappointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer in 1986 and again in 1990.

"His career has spanned so much of Maryland's environmental coming of age that some of the biggest battles are hardly remembered. ... The focus now is on the bay, but there was a war going on over strip mining in Western Maryland in the early 1970s," Tom Horton, then a Baltimore Sun columnist, wrote in 1995.

In that article, Dr. Brown recalled, "We had mines on fire, steep slopes being mined, virtually no cleanup, horrible acid drainage."

The column said Dr. Brown was "eminently and comfortably political; but also, on balance, a public servant who held true to Maryland's natural resources through the changing winds of three different decades."

Mr. Horton's column said Dr. Brown's "1984 moratorium that saved [the rockfish] was the most courageous decision of his tenure as natural resources secretary."

Dr. Brown, in that Sun column, said that the rockfish population was in "a serious, serious decline," but watermen and influential legislators did not want them protected. He recalled going to see Mr. Hughes about a total ban on rock fishing.

He recalled the governor as saying, " 'If you think it's right, it's all right with me,' and he stuck by us," Dr. Brown said in 1995.

Dr. Brown recalled the rockfish ban as a "his most dramatic moment," but he said he was most proud of his championing of Program Open Space, which preserves land and wildlife.

"Maryland has hatched more bald eagles in the last 20 years [about 1,800] than existed 20 years ago in the whole lower 48 states," Dr. Brown said in the 1995 Sun article.

He criticized Maryland's "unbelievable wastefulness of land."

"Look at Kent Island. When I came in [the legislature] 24 years ago, you could drive down there and see the water nearly all the way on both sides. Now [that vista is] gone. Our growth is affecting everything the department does," he said.

Dr. Brown said he was also pleased when Ocean City property owners and his department achieved major beach replenishment, "because everybody said we couldn't do it."

After he left office in 1995, the state named the 21-mile former Pennsylvania Railroad right of way in northern Baltimore County the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail.

Plans for a May memorial service are incomplete.

Survivors include his wife of 57 years, the former Donna Marx; two sons, Therron Brown and Rafe Brown, both of Severna Park; and five grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com