One Salisbury: Wicomico benefited from Mackes’ passion, expertise

One Salisbury Gary Mackes

If anyone is wondering what a long, successful, difference-making career looks like – then take a look at the face above. It belongs to Gary Mackes, Wicomico County’s director of Recreation, Parks and Tourism. Gary is retiring Dec. 31 after — get this — 39 years on the job.

Mackes is a lifelong employee of Wicomico County. His career at the Civic Center (which now falls under the Rec and Parks umbrella) began in 1975. He’s been the director of his department since 1980.

To many, his decision to retire on the heels of Bob Culver’s recent election as County Executive comes as no surprise. There was rampant speculation that Mackes’ days were numbered. I have no idea whether that’s true — or not true. And, for the purposes of this column, I don’t care.

Here’s what I care about: this lifelong bureaucrat did his job. Effectively. With purpose. With decisiveness. With vision. With conviction. His salary is in the low six-figure range. That’s more money than his boss makes. But you know what? He is, and was, worth every dime.

Thirty-nine years of concerts. Harlem Globetrotters. Poodle shows. Monster truck races. Basketball games. Weddings. Conferences. Company parties. More concerts. Christmas shows. Touring Broadway shows.

And that’s just at the Civic Center alone.

His department is also in charge of all of the county parks — and tourism. Ever been to the Henry S. Parker Complex for a softball, soccer, or lacrosse game? Ever put your boat in the water at Cedar Hill Marina in Bivalve? Ever taken the dog for a walk in Pemberton Park?

Ever dipped your feet in the bay at Cove Road Beach? Ever enjoyed the Autumn Wine Festival? Pork in the Park? The Good Beer Festival?

All of it fell under Mackes’ domain, too. You want any of that action? You want to deal with any of the above for even one year? How about 39 years?

The Civic Center, of course, also fell under Mackes’ areas of responsibility. You want to try and maintain a Civic Center which was built nearly 35 years ago? You want to try and compete for shows/concerts/events in a building that, by virtue of the deed restriction on the land where it sits, doesn’t allow alcohol sales?

I’m sure Mackes didn’t either. But deal with it he did. To try and secure its viability, he negotiated the purchase of 5 acres across the street for additional parking. He created streams of revenue by allowing advertising near the main entrance.

He lobbied for new, modern signage. He advocated ideas like: a NEW Civic Center, on a NEW piece of land; a conference hotel adjacent to the Civic Center; a minor league hockey team to play in it.

He never stopped trying. Ever.

There’s very little question that Gary Mackes played hardball. He was the consummate political player. He fought vehemently for his turf.

I’ve witnessed first hand, on many occasions, his relentless pursuit of what HE wanted. He stood firm and tall. He had power.

His detractors would say he had too much power. They’d also say it’s time for a new person to take the reins. Maybe they’re right. Maybe they’re not.

Make no mistake about it, though. This career, and this man, mattered. He stood guard for all of us when the “then” new Civic Center arose from the ash heap of the horrific 1977 fire that claimed its predecessor. He brought massive new revenue streams with wrestling tournaments and poodle shows, softball tournaments and bike shows, wine and beer festivals.

Those events had significant economic impacts on this community. They still do. Every year. Those events get hotel rooms booked, restaurants filled, and stores hopping. Do the math.

By ANY standard, Gary Mackes earned his paycheck.

And now, he’s earned his retirement too.

There’s more to come for this man. When you work your entire career at a place with Rec and Parks in the title, it’s fair to say you’re passionate about games, and activity, and outdoors, and events. Gary Mackes had that passion.

And he was the right man for the right job. For Salisbury, and for all of us.

Mike Dunn operates the website

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