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Obituaries

Elmer E. ‘Chief’ Horsey, former mayor of Chestertown whose administration was marked by restorations and new construction, dies

Chestertown's historic downtown was reinvigorated during the tenure of former Chestertown mayor Elmer E. “Chief” Horsey.

Elmer E. “Chief” Horsey, the colorful and sometime irascible former mayor of Chestertown who was known for his flat-top haircut and penchant for wild checkered patterned dress pants, and whose tenure was marked by restorations and new construction in the city he governed for 15 years, died at his Chestertown home New Year’s Day. He was 90.

No cause of death was available, family members said.

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A joint Governor’s Citation issued by Gov. Larry Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, honored Mr. Horsey for “an extraordinary life whose generous spirit, strength of character and commitment to public service greatly benefited Chestertown, Kent County and the State of Maryland enriching the lives of all who had the pleasure and honor of knowing him.”

Nancy S. Grasmick, former state superintendent of schools, and her late husband, Louis J. Grasmick, a lumber company owner and executive, were longtime close friends with Mr. Horsey and his wife.

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“Elmer was an exceptional man who was so polite, gentlemanly and respectful,” Dr. Grasmick said. “The people in Chestertown deeply loved him. He was a real icon. He was modest, always did the right thing, and was ethical beyond reproach, and knew every nuance of Chestertown.”

Barbara H. Heck, a former reporter and news editor at the Kent County News, said: “Elmer was remarkably generous and caring when it came to other people and Chestertown.”

“He was a very kind and caring person who would do anything he could to help those in need,” said Ms. Heck, who later spent 35 years as a senior administrator at Washington College.

Elmer Edward Horsey, son of Harvey Strickler Horsey, an insurance agent, and Martha Williams Horsey, a bookkeeper for Easton Hospital and Bayshore Foods, was born in Easton and raised on South Aurora Street. He was a 1949 graduate of Easton High School.

He graduated in 1953 from the University of Maryland, College Park, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and was a member of ROTC.

While he was a student at Maryland, his father died his freshman year, and in order to pay for his college studies, he worked in one of the dining halls.

1989 file photo of Elmer Horsey, Joan Horsey, Dennis Rasmussen, and Nancy Grasmick.

“That job,” he told The Star Democrat in a 1989 interview, “made me appreciate my education.”

After leaving College Park, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Air Force and stationed as a pilot in Ohio.

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Discharged from the Air Force, Mr. Horsey returned to the Eastern Shore and took a job with Granger and Faw, a Salisbury accounting firm, and in 1958 joined its Chestertown office.

In 1964, he joined Nylon Capital Shopping Center Inc., which was owned by Louisa ‘d A. Carpenter. There he rose to president and treasurer and retired after 54 years of employment in 2019.

A lifelong Democrat, Mr. Horsey first ran for mayor in 1977, and when elected that year after defeating L. Vernon Downey, became the fifth mayor in Chestertown’s history.

He then ran unopposed for three additional terms. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, he explained that after consulting with his wife, Joan, his last four-year term in 1993 would signal the end of his political career.

“I’m sure there’s some people who think Elmer Horsey wants to be mayor the rest of his life,” he said in the 1993 interview. “That’s not true. I’m sure I could win easily if I wanted to. But it’s my intent not to seek another term.”

Mr. Horsey’s 15 years as mayor proved to be transformative ones for Chestertown.

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New government and police offices were built, the historic downtown was reinvigorated, Colonial-style sidewalks were laid down, major repairs were made to the Chester River bridge and a new water treatment facility replaced an older one.

With the backing of the Chestertown Council, nearly all of the city’s dilapidated housing areas were eliminated and replaced with new residential units. During his tenure, 58 senior low-income units, 154 low-income rental units and 349 regular apartments and houses were constructed.

“The Chestertown Business Park, Radcliffe Industrial Park, the bringing together of the Washington College campus by closing Gibson Avenue, expanding town limits with its annexation of Foxley Manor, Coventry Farms and Stepne Manor were all completed during his term,” according to a biographical profile submitted by his family.

“He had the vision to purchase and develop six acres of Chestertown’s abandoned waterfront industrial district now named Wilmer Park. He doubled the capacity of both water and sewer while meeting EPA guidelines. He was also instrumental in paving the way for Heron Point [retirement community] to be developed, negotiating and obtaining approval with various state agencies on their behalf,” the profile stated.

When Mr. Horsey retired, Harry Hurtt Deringer Jr., publisher and editor of the weekly Kent County News who died in 2005, called him “the best mayor, for most of his time in office, Chestertown has ever seen.”

Dr. Grasmick said: “Elmer didn’t suffer fools gladly and he knew the difference of what was genuine or not and would say, ‘Don’t listen, what that person is saying is not genuine.’”

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Mr. Horsey developed a close personal and professional relationship with former Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer. Their relationship continued as Mr. Schaefer went to Annapolis as governor.

Mr. Horsey served as campaign treasurer for Mr. Schaefer’s gubernatorial and comptroller campaigns and was a trustee of the Government House Foundation for many years.

Mr. Horsey and Mr. Grasmick established an annual crab feast in Chestertown that honored Mr. Schaefer.

“It was very popular and more than a 1,000 people would come,” recalled Dr. Grasmick.

Mr. Horsey served on the state handgun permit review board for 23 years and in one of his last acts as governor, Mr. Schaefer appointed him as a commissioner to the State Highway Administration, a position he held for 20 years, and until his death.

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He had been president of the Eastern Shore chapter of the Maryland Municipal League and had been a member of the board and past chairman of The Peoples Bank.

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Locally, he was a lifetime member of the Chestertown Volunteer Fire Co., a member and former president of the Chester River Yacht and Country Club and a member of Frank M. Jarman American Legion Post 36. Additional active memberships included the Elks and Chestertown Rotary Club.

Mr. Horsey also continued working as a tax preparer and financial adviser and was still active at his death, family members said.

He enjoyed boating, waterfowl hunting and was an avid Ravens fan. He also had raised and bred thoroughbred horses and had been a director and secretary/treasurer of the Florida Breeders’ Sales Co, from 1969 to 1981.

He was a member of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Chestertown.

Services are private.

Mr. Horsey is survived by his wife of 48 years, the former Patricia Joan Ozman; a son, Gary Edward Horsey of Chestertown; a daughter, Elizabeth Anne Horsey of Annapolis; two stepsons, Scott Ozman Smith and Todd Bringman Smith, both of Chestertown; a stepdaughter, Tracye Eve Smith Landon of Chestertown; two grandchildren; a great-grandson; five step-grandchildren; and a step-great granddaughter.


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