James W. “Jim” Gracie, a trout fisherman and stream restoration advocate who had been a chemical engineer, died of complications of COPD and cancer Thursday at Anne Arundel Medical Center. The former Ellicott City resident was 78.
“Jim had true grit,” said John R. Griffin, former secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “It was his love of fly-fishing that led him to become a multidecade environmental advocate. He started with stream work and soon was championing the Chesapeake Bay through his love of water restoration.”
Born in Baltimore and raised in Edmondson Village, he was the son of Alice Ricalo Gracie and her husband, James Wallace Gracie, an electrician.
He was a 1960 graduate of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, where he belonged to the marching band and swimming team. He then attended the University of Maryland, College Park and majored in chemistry. He completed his degree at the Johns Hopkins University.
A family biography said he became a nationally competitive springboard diver at Poly and Maryland. He earned his master’s in business administration from the University of Baltimore.
He became an industrial chemist and served the Davison Chemical Division of W.R. Grace.
As a student, he became interested in rivers and ﬁshing, and often visited the Enoch Pratt Free Library to read about the subject. Family members said librarians made exceptions for him to borrowing policies that limited the number of books one could check out at a time on one subject.
He walked from his childhood home to a spot near Dickeyville to explore a stream called Dead Run.
He cast flies and caught blacknose dace, which he fantasized was a brown trout. He did his fishing in a spot where Baltimore City had posted signs that said, “Danger! typhoid fever polluted water Keep Out."
He went on to be a founding member of the Maryland chapter of Trout Unlimited and was later national president of the organization for two terms. He was also chairman of the Maryland Coldwater Coalition.
Friends said that in the 1970s he asked the director of Maryland Fisheries Service to begin stocking Baltimore City streams. He was told that raw sewage was discharging into them and that it could create a serious health hazard.
He worked to champion a federal grant to seal sewer lines that leaked into Baltimore’s stream valleys. After a year of collecting water samples, the city showed that Herring and Dead runs were safe to be stocked.
He also believed that city children should have a chance to fish for trout.
He worked with Pam Kelly, an aide to then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, to set up City Catch, an annual spring event at which city children ﬁshed for trout in Dead Run. Other mayors continued the practice.
After years of trout fishing and observing how environmental conditions were affecting Maryland streams, he felt he could put his education in the field to work. In 1985 he founded an environmental consulting firm Brightwater Inc. to focus on stream and river restoration and enhancement. He began his business in Columbia.
“He was the chair of DNR Sport Fish Advisory Commission,” said Eric Schwaab, an Environmental Defense Fund officer and former Maryland Fisheries director. “Jim was a force of nature. He had an incredible drive. Within the agency, it was challenging. In the agency, we could not always satisfy his aspiration.”
In 1977 Mr. Gracie campaigned against a water treatment plant in Garrett County near the Youghiogheny River. In a Sun article, he said chlorine to be used in the plants “could be lethal to trout.”
“He was passionate,” said Shannon Lucas, with whom he worked from 2002 to 2014. "He made a huge footprint in the stream restoration community. He had integrity and was not afraid to fight for policy and to do the right thing. He was also a generous person and could identify the feelings in other people and then bring them along into his cause."
Cris Wood, a friend and Trout Unlimited official, said: “Jim’s contributions to conservation are many. He worked with golf courses to minimize stream degradation. He helped convince the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to reintroduce trout into the Gunpowder River in Maryland. I attended City Catch last spring, and have never seen more smiling faces in one place.”
Mr. Gracie’s family biography said he pioneered the natural channel approach to stream and river restoration in the eastern United States starting in the mid-1980s. He also advocated rockfish conservation.
Gov. Martin O’Malley named Mr. Gracie an “admiral of the Chesapeake.”
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday at Calvary United Methodist Church, 301 Rowe Blvd., Annapolis, where he was an active member.
Mr. Gracie was formerly associated with Milford Mill and Bethany Methodist churches, and sang in choirs and led financial stewardship and environmental ministry teams.
Survivors include his wife of 42 years, Jane Helfrich Gracie; two sons, David Gracie of Mount Airy and Kevin Gracie of Baltimore; a daughter, Meredith Holmes of Arnold; a brother, George Gracie of Pasadena; a sister, Judy Dashiell of Sudlersville; and three grandsons.