Baltimore philanthropist, businessman and author Eddie Brown is so soft-spoken and gentlemanly that it might surprise some that he is undaunted about venturing into uncharted waters and new territories.
But the man who is co-owner of the city's new lavish hotel, The Ivy, hails from a diverse and vastly successful professional background, from starting out as an engineer and Army lieutenant to spending a decade at T. Rowe Price before founding Brown Capital Management in 1983.
He and his wife of more than 50 years, Sylvia, are celebrated as two of Baltimore's most generous benefactors. Brown, 74, was named Marylander of the Year in 2011 and has received numerous similar awards.
The Ivy Hotel and its lush amenities offer a clue to Brown's high expectations as an experienced traveler. He and his wife have traveled much of the world, including a whirlwind three-week, five-continent National Geographic tour by private plane, along with excursions with their grandchildren.
We chatted with him about what it's like to travel the globe and how New England's cooler weather lures him and his wife to the coast of Maine in summer.
Life in Baltimore seems to be such a constant whirlwind for you and your wife. Where do you go when you need to get away?
We have a second home in Rockport, Maine. [As well as one in Florida].
In which part of Maine is Rockport?
It's midcoast, about an hour and a half to two hours north of Portland. [The peninsula where they live is] strictly a residential community. Most people have heard of [nearby] Camden, Maine, because it is more touristy, with restaurants, shops. You can go from one to the other quite easily. Literally, it takes us five to 10 minutes to get from our home to downtown Camden.
For how long have you been going there?
We purchased September of 2012. The reason I know that is because they tried to get the closing on Sept. 11. [I told them] I will not close on 9/11; I will close on 10th or the 12th, but I will not do it on Sept. 11.
There are plenty of ocean and mountain retreats closer to home, so what drew you to Maine?
When our daughters were growing up, we had a travel trailer that we pulled behind the car for summer vacation, and we would take a week or two weeks. And we were just exploring, over many years, New England. … And we just kept coming back to Maine because it's so sparsely populated, its very green with beautiful forests, very nice people, and they care about the environment. We just enjoyed the whole area around the Penobscot Bay. So when we thought about purchasing a second home … the main attraction was the cooler climate in the summer. When it's hot and humid in Baltimore, it's normally pleasant and low humidity in Maine … and lobster is a very nice benefit.
Do the girls come up with you now?
Well, they are both married, and one has our three grandchildren, so they come up when they can.
How often do you go to Maine, and how long do you usually stay?
I'm still working. My wife has the flexibility to just stay and enjoy the place all summer. Our pattern now is that my wife and I normally go up late May, plant the garden — we love vegetable gardening. [Then we] come back around the middle of June. And I go back and forth all summer. The beauty is that I can work remotely … just like I'm at my desk, so I work up there periodically. I try to take a week's vacation — not working — in July and August.
Do you invite friends to visit?
We've kind of cut down on that because early on, we always seemed to have guests — almost every week in the early phases [laughs] and we said, "Wait a minute, we should be enjoying this place!" Occasionally now we invite friends and other family members to come up, but it's not as frequent.
What kinds of activities do you like to do?
There's just so much in terms of outdoor activities, from kayaking to biking to just walking. We're right on the Penobscot Bay, on a peninsula. The Penobscot Bay flows right out into the Atlantic Ocean — they call it the Gulf of Maine. We have 1,200 feet of waterfront. It is a very rocky waterfront … almost like cliffs, so it's not conducive to swimming. The other reason is that the water temperature is cold. In July and August, I think [it's] around 55 degrees. … So we like to look at it.
Do you have a boat?
No, I tried to convince my wife but she said, "No, let's charter or go out on other people's boats [laughs]." There are just so many great islands off the coast. Someone told me that Maine has hundreds of islands. In fact, we know people from Baltimore that have places on a couple of the islands. We can look across and see five or six [islands], including Vinalhaven. I guess one of the most notable islands is Islesboro, I think its like 21 miles long. Some movie stars have places there, like John Travolta.
How do visitors get to the islands?
There is a town north of us called Lincolnville that has a ferry that goes to Islesboro. There's a town south of us called Rockland with a ferry that goes to several islands, including Vinalhaven.
Do you have any favorite go-to restaurants?
Our favorite is in Rockland, maybe 20 minutes away. It's called Primo. The chef there has received the James Beard Award twice in the last five years — very unusual. Another is in Camden, the Hartstone Inn. The chef there is really great. It's an inn with 20-some rooms. We didn't know that the restaurant was not only for its guests until a friend told us about it.
When friends come up and need to find accommodations, where do you suggest they stay?
Well, that's happened. When we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary we said rather than do one big party, we decided to do several venues [to include friends near their other homes] … and spread it out through the year. [In Maine] it turned out we had 107 people — 25 came from the Baltimore area. We had to put up a tent and all sorts of things we hadn't planned on. We had to figure out where should we suggest they stay. One was Samoset Resort in Rockport, which has a great hotel, spa and all those amenities, and [is] just 20 minutes from the house. There are numerous bed-and-breakfasts in Camden, and our friends who live there gave us a list of recommendations. Camden Maine Stay Inn was one.
When you go, do you usually drive or fly to get there?
We fly, because if you stop for a meal, it could be an 11- to 12-hour drive.
I've heard that you and your wife travel frequently.
We travel quite a bit around the United States, and outside. One thing we've sought to do over the past several summers: We have three grandsons, [ages] 18, 14, and 8, and we want them to experience other cultures and places, so we have begun to take them on trips outside the U.S.
We have done a safari to Africa. It was 12 days. The oldest grandson loves animals and one of his dreams was to actually go on a safari and experience the migration. We went to Tanzania, Serengeti, and then a week in Kenya in the Maasai Mara. So we experienced the crossing from the Serengeti into Maasai Mara, where [there were] thousands of animals. We went at its peak, in late July. I remember one afternoon in Serenget,i we saw all of the Big Five [Africa's Big Five are: lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo]. Boy, we were in heaven!
And then this past June [they again went] with the grandsons and their parents. We really like the National Geographic vacations … focusing on the family trips. We gave them a choice of three different trips: Antarctica, the Galapagos and Scotland. And for whatever reason, they said, "Let's do Scotland." It was a very small group on this National Geographic tour. Including us, there was [also] a couple, ironically from an island off of Portland, Maine, with their two grandchildren, and then there was a lady from Kansas and she had her 15-year-old grandson. We're the only ones who brought the parents; everyone else just brought the kids [laughs]. I'm going to have to remember that!
Were you there for the solstice?
Yes, we left on June 21. I think there was only four or five hours without daylight. The last stop was Inverness and, instead of going back to Edinburgh and flying out, we found this castle about 45 minutes north, and spent three nights. One night we finished dinner around 9 p.m. and this couple next to us was talking about going out to play golf, "Lets go out and play nine holes." I said, "Wait a minute, it's 9 p.m." … but because [of the solstice] it was still daylight!"
So, where is next on your bucket list?
We have already signed up for a trip to Antarctica, not with the family. The timing wasn't right [considering the children's school schedules]. ... But you know, the trip of our lifetime was when we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary, which is Aug. 11, 2012. We decided to take the National Geographic Trip Around the World. It is one of the best decisions as a couple that we have made. It was 31/2 weeks, 13 countries, five continents. I've never taken a 31/2-week vacation, but I said, "You know, we're only going to do our 50th wedding anniversary once, so let's really take time to smell the roses and do something that's a once-in-a-lifetime."
Have your own expectations about traveling changed since you've created The Ivy Hotel?
Yes, because we want to experience the best. We have very high standards now, and we really know when they have been met — or not.
Do you have a favorite room there?
My favorite room is No. 18. Reason: It's totally private, very spacious. With two levels, it lends itself nicely to entertaining guests in the suite for cocktails, etc. It's absolutely knockout gorgeous. And did I mention the fireplaces — living room and upstairs bedroom?
What do you especially look for now when traveling?
I think … great accommodations, top-notch service and staff, and great cuisine.
What is the one thing you won't travel without?
My wife. …And my credit card. [Laughs.]