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Sarah Taylor-Rogers, the first woman to head the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and a giant in the field of conservation, dies

Sarah Taylor-Rogers dedicated her career to preserving Maryland’s natural resources. 2001 file photo by Chiaki Kawajiri.
Sarah Taylor-Rogers dedicated her career to preserving Maryland’s natural resources. 2001 file photo by Chiaki Kawajiri. (Chiaki Kawajiri / XX)

Sarah Taylor-Rogers, the first woman to head the Maryland Department of Natural Resources who later was acting director of what is now the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology in Queenstown, died of melanoma on June 23 at her Otterbein home. She was 73.

“She dedicated her life and the last five decades to working on behalf of the Chesapeake Bay and serving the agricultural interests of our farmers, which was an incredible delicate balance,” said state Del. Margaret L. “Maggie” McIntosh, former chair of the House Environmental Matters Committee. “She served DNR at a time when there was a lot of resistance to nutrient management. It was her ability to define policies and bring together agricultural and environmental interests. This really impressed me.”

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Paul Peditto, head of DNR’s Wildlife and Heritage Service, was a colleague and friend of Dr. Taylor-Rogers.

“Sarah was a rock who really always focused on our natural resources, missions, and was unflappable to the end,” Mr. Peditto said. “She was a great leader and had a steady and stable hand at all times, and frankly, seemed to always know what was going on in every corner of the world we were charged to conserve, protect and manage. And it was a great experience being part of her team.”

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The former Sarah Taylor, daughter of Gilbert Taylor, a plasterer, and his wife, Dorothy Fisher Taylor, a homemaker, was born and raised in Prospect Park, Pennsylvania, where she was a graduate of city public schools.

Dr. Taylor-Rogers earned a bachelor’s degree in 1969 in political science from Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania, and a master’s degree in public administration and her Ph.D. in 1976, both from Syracuse University. She took additional courses in water resources and natural resources management from what’s now the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Her lifelong interest in nature began when as a child, she spent her time building dams and little villages out of creek mud.

“I played in the water — basically managing my first resource. I built communities around the water — smart growth,” she explained in a 1999 interview with The Capital. “I took flowers from my mother’s garden and beautified the communities — Rural Legacy,” she said.

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From 1974 to 1979, Dr. Taylor-Rogers was a project manager and community planner for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, where she conducted a water assessment for the Washington, D.C. region that became known as the Washington, D.C. Water Supply Study.

“In that process she developed a method to assess institutional strength (fiscal and political at state and local levels) to determine the ability to assume the local cost share for Corps’ projects,” according to a biographical profile of Dr. Taylor-Rogers. “This method was adopted by the Corps as regulatory guidelines for all projects.”

In 1979, she was appointed director of the Maryland Coastal Zone Management Program — the first woman to lead the program —which she headed for six years before leading Maryland into a “new arena – the then un-heard-of critical planning,” according to The Capital article.

As director, she represented four governors to the organization and was also the first woman to chair the Potomac River Fisheries Commission.

She was executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission from 1984 to 1994, when she was named assistant secretary for DNR’s Resource Management Service.

In 1994, she was promoted to head DNR’s Forest Service, Wildlife and Heritage divisions as well as Fisheries and Licensing Regulations Service while retaining oversight of the Critical Area Commission.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed Dr. Taylor-Rogers in 1999 as DNR secretary, the first woman to hold that position, after he fired former DNR head John R. Griffin.

At the time of Dr. Taylor-Rogers’ appointment, Gov. Glendening said she “has an exceptional record of preserving Maryland’s natural resources.”

“Her focus was on the wise management of Maryland’s natural resources through the use of sound science and improving the Chesapeake Bay through education and increased awareness of citizens not usually served well by the government,” said the biographical profile. “She initiated information in State Parks to be printed in Spanish and to have signage in Braille to encourage the underserved.”

During her tenure she addressed the nutrient cap on the amount of runoff into the Chesapeake Bay, supporting the rebuilding and restoration of habitat.

In 2001 she resigned from her position at DNR to the surprise of many, telling The Baltimore Sun that she had ”well over 20 years of service in state government and completed things I was hoping to accomplish under Gov. Glendening’s leadership.”

After she left DNR, Gov. Harry R. Hughes suggested she reach out to Dr. Russ Brinsfield, who was the director of the Maryland Center for Agro-Ecology —now the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, which is under the aegis of the University of Maryland.

She worked as his research assistant until 2004, when she was named the center’s assistant director, and in 2015 became that acting director after Dr. Brinsfield retired.

Dr. Taylor-Rogers retired two years later. In 2019, Craig Beyrouty, dean of the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, asked her to reprise her role as acting director, which she held shortly and retired again because of failing health.

A colorful character, she was known for collecting and wearing hats including an admiral’s tricorn that had been given to her by William Donald Schaefer when he was governor.

“Sarah always stood out not in an ostentatious way and not because of her signature hats,” wrote former Sun outdoors editor and columnist, Candus “Candy” Thomson, in an email.

“Often the only woman at the table in a room full of bureaucrats, anglers, hunters and lobbyists, she led by listening and by finding consensus,” Ms. Thomson wrote. “Even if you disagreed with her, you knew she had listened to your point of view. An event she attended was always better, always more productive, always more collegial.”

Recalling the first time she met her, Ms. Thomson wrote, “I called her Dr. Taylor-Rogers. She laughed and told me she didn’t know anybody by that name. Sarah was always accessible, always kind, always patient.”

In March, Dr. Taylor-Rogers wrote in an email note to colleagues and friends that she had a rare and incurable form of cancer, adding, “I am a strong believer in prayer and thank you so much for them.”

She then reflected on her days at DNR.

“When we all worked together at the Department, it was one of the most rewarding times for me. It didn’t matter who did what and where one was located within the Department, we were all doing our best and we were all, each one of us, the fact of the Department. That is what made the Department what it was an enabled success.”

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Dr. Taylor-Rogers met her future husband, John Whitson Rogers, a builder-developer, when both were bidding on a $1 house in Baltimore.

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“We literally met on a marble doorstep of a house that we were both bidding on,” she told The Capital in 1999.

They fell in love and married in 1994, and shared the same hobby of renovating and renting vacant properties to low-income families who could not otherwise afford to purchase a home.

A private burial was held in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, and plans for a celebration-of-life-gathering are incomplete.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by her stepdaughter, Renee L. Rogers, as well as a granddaughter.

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