Ellen Moyer with her children at the White House, circa 1984. (Courtesy Ellen Moyer)

In early 1999 I was asked to do an article about Ellen Moyer for a magazine that no longer exists. I didn’t know much about her at the time other than the fact she was a close friend of Peg Wallace, one of the city’s most dynamic ladies, and alderman of the city’s maritime district known as Eastport. I interviewed Ellen, learned about her many accomplishments, wrote the article and found myself a few months later agreeing to become both chair and fundraising chair of her historic Mayoral campaign. I say historic because Ellen was the first woman elected Mayor of Annapolis in its 300+ year history.

It was a thrilling ride. Ellen assembled a really great team of experienced professionals, opened a campaign office in the basement of a law office on Prince George Street that we called Denny’s dungeon. Luckily it was located close to a restaurant that housed a window table in the bar where we held a lot of meetings above ground ,so to speak. It must have been a quiet news year as the local newspaper kept referring to us as the “Moyer machine” as if we were some big time urban organization with major political control. It made for good copy. And Ellen won big time in dollars and votes.

(Ellen Moyer)

Thinking that Outlook readers might want to learn more about this multi faceted former Mayor who now contributes articles to this well loved publication, I went into my article archives to refresh my memory. I could have lifted the pages of the article written in 1999 and sent them off to the publisher adding a paragraph or two about her 8 year administration. Nothing’s changed about Ellen except she has done more. Like the energizer bunny, she keeps on going. The word retirement does not apply.

Back then I described her as eclectic, progressive and difficult to capture as just when you think you know her, another aspect or dimension appears. To call her a renaissance woman may be the most accurate description. Interested in practically any subject you can think of, she has an almost encyclopedic command of facts at her disposal.

Her character is revealed in subtle ways, like the time I answered the phone at the campaign office and Ellen, who was driving in fast moving traffic on route 50, interrupted our political conversation to stop and pick up a turtle in the middle of the road so it wouldn’t get “smunched.” She was also patron of her neighborhood feral cats,taking then to the vet for neutering and other services at her own expense. The door to her house as well as the door to her Mayoral office was always open. No one was ever turned away. Even ants. There was an aquarium for them in her office. Ellen didn’t believe in killing anything.

Hers wasn’t a political life planned in advance. It was a path tracked naturally. While it is hard to think of Annapolis and not see Ellen’s print on much of what contributes to the quality of life here, Ellen wasn’t born in Annapolis. She grew up in Towson, Maryland during the 50’s when life seemed much less complicated then it is today.

Her first interests were sports and horses. She played softball, volleyball, basketball, field hockey, and set a a record with a 7′ 1 broad jump. She won many athletic awards long before women’s participation in sports was even seriously acknowledged. A facility maintained by the Humane society in Baltimore introduced her to the world of horses, riding and racing, that years later led to her appointment as a member of the Maryland Horse Racing Commission and ownership of a couple of racing horses.

After attending Penn State and getting her master’s degree in education at Goucher College, she took a job as district director of the Girl Scouts and moved to Annapolis, where her never-ending love affair with Annapolis began. Her love affair with her husband, Pip Moyer, Mayor of Annapolis in the ’60s did end, although it produced 5 children and a friendship that went on until his death.

A career shift took her to the Maryland State Teachers Association as its first lobbyist and her role as executive director of the Maryland Commission for Women took her into the political arena and honed her legislative skills helping pass laws that allowed women to get credit and protection from spousal abuse.

Her formal entry into elected office began with an appointment to the city council as the alderman for Ward 8. Vitally interested in preserving the maritime industry, she joined others in the fight against high rise and hotel development in Eastport, pushed for maritime zoning to protect the area, supported the creation of a Maritime Advisory Board and when Mayor worked to bring the Whitbread Around the World Race (now The Ocean Race) To Annapolis. When McNasbys, a landmark seafood operation closed its doors, she encouraged the city to buy the building which now houses the Annapolis Maritime Museum.

Her impact on the environment can be seen in the many waterfront street end parks, bicycle and walking paths throughout Annapolis, and the revitalization of Back Creek Nature Park as a learning center; now the Ellen O. Moyer Park, operated by the museum. She also partnered with the Naval Academy to include walking trails, storm water ponds and rain gardens around the perimeter of the stadium.

Interest in the arts lead to the creation of the Art in Public Places Commission, Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, and the publication of several editions of the book Art in Annapolis.

Perhaps the greatest economic impact Ellen made was taking advantage of state legislation to establish the West Street Arts District. Initially designed to give artists and musicians a financial incentive to locate there, it has transformed the area into an economic power house as evidenced by the commercial, residential, and theatrical development that has extended beyond the arts district out to Westgate Circle.

To cover all that Ellen has done and continues to do would take a book and now that she is “sort of retired,” maybe she will write one. For now she is busy with several writing projects, updating the Art in the City of Annapolis book for publication and helping many community projects get off the ground through her role as Chair of the Annapolis Community Foundation, a nonprofit she created years ago.

Many elected officials have benefited from her advice and behind-the-scenes efforts as she continues to influence and improve the quality of life for all Annapolitans in the future.

Arlene Berlin is a retired entrepreneur and political consultant living in Annapolis.  She can be reached at [email protected].

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