Mount Airy Mayor Patrick Rockinberg, who served as the mayor of the town shared by Carroll and Frederick counties for more than a decade, has died at the age of 58.
Town officials announced the news in a release Sunday, saying that Rockinberg had died after serving as mayor for the past 11 years. The release did not disclose a cause of death.
“His vibrant, positive personality, as well as his leadership, will be long remembered and greatly missed,” town officials wrote in a statement.
Rockinberg had just recently narrowly won his reelection bid in May, the fourth time he’d been elected mayor since 2010.
He’d previously had to temporarily step down as mayor in 2018 as he underwent surgery for esophageal cancer.
Those who worked alongside him said Rockinberg was an always approachable mayor who connected with residents.
“He was the people’s mayor,” said Councilwoman Lynne Galletti.
The newly elected councilwoman credited Rockinberg with getting her into municipal government, first pushing her to serve on the Streets and Roads Commission before ultimately persuading her to run for town council this year.
She said she didn’t have much interest in working for the town government before meeting “Mayor Pat,” but his persuasive nature and passion for Mount Airy itself drove her to start becoming more involved.
“I really learned from him the value of volunteering for my town and putting the needs of the town before anything else,” she said.
She added that Rockinberg was also incredibly personal, whether it be speaking to town residents about issues or reaching out to a child who’d recently lost his mother.
“The cool thing about Pat was he always made you feel like you were welcome and you were important and what you had to say mattered,” she said. “I’m really bummed that I don’t get to serve with him. But now, I get to serve for him.”
Councilwoman Pamela Reed, who was elected to the town council in May 2019, had similar sentiments about her time serving with Rockinberg, saying that the mayor’s “compassion and genuine love will guide me through life.”
“Mayor Pat was more than just our mayor, he was our friend and a member of our family,” Reed said. “Mayor Pat taught me the value of volunteering and selflessly engaging with our community.”
Larry Hushour, a former council president who ran against Rockinberg for mayor this year, said in an email that Rockinberg was a longtime friend who “loved this town and emerged exactly when the town needed him most.”
“As a colleague, we saw eye to eye almost always,” Hushour said. “Sometimes he would ‘zig’ when I would ‘zag,’ but we were always on the same team. We’ve lost a great member and a leader in our community.”
Bob King, a former Mount Airy resident who served on town council from 2012 through 2019, said the two became close friends and allies after initially campaigning against each other when King was running for town council.
He said that after he was elected, the two soon had a chat and were able to quickly settle their differences, in part due to Rockinberg’s outlook on participating in town government.
“’If the citizens elected him and the citizens elected me, then they wanted us to work together,’” was Rockinberg’s outlook, according to King.
And the mayor was always looking to come up with solutions that best helped the citizens, he added.
King said that, years ago, a downtown fire had exposed the inability of a 6-inch water main to produce enough water to effectively fight fires.
So the town wanted to replace that water main with a 12-inch one, but because it had occurred around Labor Day, officials were concerned that daytime construction could cut into the profits of nearby businesses, who relied on strong year-end sales to support themselves.
The alternative, however, was to do the construction at night, potentially perturbing nearby residents.
So when King suggested that the town try to work 24 hours a day to get the construction done as fast as possible, the mayor took to the downtown to interview residents while King was tasked with talking with businesses.
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King said 90% of the people they talked to agreed with the plan for construction to take place 24 hours a day and that the tactic of weighing potential options with nearby residents was a regular practice.
“He always wanted to go one more. If we could get one more person involved … that’s just what Pat was. He wanted as many people as possible,” he said.
The 67-year-old former councilman now lives in Georgia, having moved there about two months ago, and laments the fact that he never got a chance to invite Rockinberg before his death.
“Pat was going to be one of my very first guests down here,” King said. “I’m really going to miss my friend.”
According to the town’s charter, Council President Jason Poirier will serve as acting mayor.
The Carroll County Board of Elections will set a date for a new election within the next 60 days.
While services are pending, a visitation is scheduled for Thursday from 4-7 p.m. at Stauffer Funeral Home in Mount Airy.