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Chestertown Tea Party Festival 2015
Margo Bailey, Chestertown’s five-term mayor, will be grand marshal of this year’s Tea Party Festival.
Sabine Harvey, chairman of the Tea Party Festival committee, said in an email Tuesday, May 5, “After having been mayor for 20 years, it seemed that Margo was the absolute obvious choice as this year’s grand marshal. Margo has done so much for this community that it only seemed fitting to honor her at Chestertown’s largest annual event.”
“Tea Party was the thing that defined Chestertown for me,” Bailey said in a phone call Wednesday, May 6. She recalled working on the festival in her first years in town, “making coleslaw for 200 people with my little Cuisinart” in Mary Jean Hudson’s kitchen.
For her, Bailey said, the festival has been “filled with good friends, a chance to be together.” She said all her children come home for it every year — “It’s better than Christmas,” she said.
In her role as grand marshal, Bailey will be accompanied by her two grandchildren, Greta and Nick. Greta will be celebrating her 10th birthday the day of the parade.
This won’t be Bailey’s first ride in the grand marshal’s chariot. In 1974, she was married to the late Bill Nicholson, who was at the time town manager of Chestertown, who was grand marshal that year. She and their daughter Nancy — Greta and Nick’s mother — rode in the parade with him.
Originally from Florida, Bailey came to Chestertown in 1972. She entered the public arena in 1991, following her second husband Michael Bailey as a member of the town council. Two years later, she ran for mayor for the first time after the retirement of Elmer Horsey. When she learned she had won the elections, she told the Kent County News, “I’m terrified. Now I have to be as intelligent as I’ve been pretending to be.”
Bailey may be best known for her 10-year fight to prevent Walmart from opening a store in Chestertown. She said in an interview just before the end of her last term, that the prospect of the retail chain opening in town was what spurred her initial run for mayor in 1994. She held the office from then until 2013, when she announced she would not seek re-election.
Her tenure was also distinguished by her passionate environmentalism. One of the signature measures of her time as mayor was creating the town’s “Green Team,” which has been active in finding ways to protect the environment of the town and the community.
It was the Green Team that first proposed an ordinance requiring businesses in town to stop distributing throw-away plastic bags with purchases. Despite ferocious opposition by businesses and some residents, Bailey made the case for the environmental benefits of the ordinance and got it passed.
Bailey’s commitment to the environment extends to her daily life. “I had to do it myself before I could ask anyone else,” she said in a 2013 interview. She got an energy audit of her home, bought rain barrels and compost bins, and began recycling everything she could. She stopped using a clothes dryer, hanging her laundry in the yard. “I live the life I ask others to do,” she said.
Given her commitment to the environment, it is not surprising that Bailey was responsible for the town’s acquisition of several new parks. The largest one, off Rolling Road near Heron Point, is now named Margo Bailey Park in her honor. Gateway Park, off High Street at Radcliffe Creek, is scheduled to be built this year. Remembrance Park, near Horsey Lane, was also completed during her tenure.
It was also during her administration that the town decided to purchase the Chestertown Marina, to preserve it from private development and to keep the townspeople from losing access to the river. She cited her Florida hometown as an example of how residents could lose access to the water when prime waterfront property was privatized.
Most recently, Bailey was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan as a board member of the Maryland Historical Trust, which is charged with identifying and preserving the state’s historic assets.
In addition to her career in government, Bailey has been a devoted reader, with mysteries a favorite genre. During her term as mayor, residents knew they could find her behind the counter of The Compleat Bookseller, run by her friend Lanny Parks.