The history of Laurel mattered to longtime resident James "Jim" McCeney.
After his retirement in 2000 as a chief financial officer for the Organization of American States, he returned to his childhood home overlooking the corner of Main and Fourth streets, undertaking a major renovation and restoration effort of the 19th-century frame house.
McCeney died Saturday, March 19 of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease, according to his family. He was 74.
While growing up in Laurel, McCeney's father, Dr. Robert McCeney, practiced medicine at their Main Street home for 57 years and his mother, Lelia Brennan McCeney, held garden parties, all bringing the community together.
Following his mother's death in 1995, McCeney and his wife, Bobbi, purchased his brother's shares in 1999 and moved to Laurel from the Washington suburb of Kensington.
Together they worked tirelessly to bring new life into their home, adding modern appliances, flooring and walls, but maintaining the historic qualities that were intrinsic to the house.
McCeney's historic preservation efforts extended from his own home to the Laurel Historical Society. Karen Lubieniecki, chairwoman of the Laurel Museum's executive committee, said McCeney served as the organization's chairman, treasurer and president.
"If you went to the museum, you might encounter Jim on a Sunday afternoon, filling in because we needed somebody to be there," Lubieniecki said. "He was a person who would chip in whenever somebody was needed. Jim's contribution to the historical society is almost immeasurable. Mostly, what he gave was his heart and his time to the organization."
Through generosity and modesty, Lubieniecki said, McCeney helped build museum collections.
"He did his best to ensure that the Laurel Historical Society served the Laurel community and would continue to do so for many years to come," Executive Director Lindsey Baker added. "His ongoing commitment, contributions and love for the Laurel Historical Society was evident to all who crossed his path."
McCeney also sat on the city of Laurel's pension board and the city's Historic District Commission.
Laurel Planning Commission member Rick Wilson said he served alongside McCeney on the Historic District Commission, where he quickly recognized McCeney's willingness to help the city in any way possible.
"He came from a business background," Wilson said, referring to McCeney's work at the Organization of American States. "When I was a city councilman and you needed to talk something over with people to get a perspective of a citizen, Jim was the kind of guy you could sit with and talk to."
Wilson said he was proud to work with McCeney, who he considered "a gentleman and a kind soul," and McCeney helped him learn about the significant of historical advocacy in his own town.
"He had a deep love of the city and its institutions," Wilson said. "That's the part we lose when we lose people like Jim McCeney: A little bit of the institution of the city of Laurel is lost. You just can't recover that."