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Preston’s Tenure Remembered

Bill Meredith

Dr. Robert Preston, longtime Professor of History at Mount St. Mary’s College, has resigned from the Mount’s faculty and will become Provost of Trinity College in Washington, D. C.

When colleges are taking applications for administrative positions, it is customary to keep the names of the applicants confidential until the process is complete. Benjamin Franklin said that three people can keep a secret only if two of them are dead, and this is especially true at the Mount; the college is a close knit community where everyone usually knows everything about everybody. However, in this case confidentiality was maintained; only a few individuals who had written recommendations for Preston were aware that he was considering a move. Therefore, the news of his departure came as a shock to the Mount faculty and staff.

Bob Preston came to the Mount in 1968 as Instructor in History; like many young faculty, his academic credential was "ABD," meaning that his work on the Ph. D. was completed "all but dissertation." Teaching loads were greater in those days than now, and no exception was made for rookies. Bob had the daunting task of finishing his degree work while teaching a full load of courses for the first time. He completed the degree on schedule and rose steadily through the academic ranks, being promoted to Full Professor in 1980.

The years immediately after Bob’s arrival at the Mount were turbulent times. The college had grown slowly in the years after World War II, but it was starting to increase more rapidly as the "baby boom" generation reached college age. Internally, the college was changing; the first lay president was appointed, complex new systems of governance were developing, and women joined the faculty and student body for the first time. Superimposed on all these things was the national social turmoil associated with the Vietnam War.

Survival as a young professor in such times required tact and diplomatic skill as well as hard work, and Bob did more than survive; he became a leader. In a department known for high standards and strong personalities, he maintained a program of scholarship, bringing students and citizens of Emmitsburg together in oral history studies of the town. A popular teacher from the start, he communicated easily with students and gained their trust, often serving as a mediator in the conflicts that arose over changing standards of behavior in the early `70’s. He was known for a quick wit that could defuse tense situations in meetings, for an objective approach to problems, and for honesty and candor. These qualities brought him to the chairmanship of the History Department and to leadership roles on most of the important policy-making committees of the college. One of his most important tasks was authoring the college’s report to the Middle States Accrediting Agency in 1984. His many contributions to the college were recognized when he was awarded the President’s Medal this spring. The college will miss him.

Bob and his family have been active members of the Emmitsburg community. His wife, Jennie, is a teacher in the Frederick County school system. Their children all attended local schools, and several went to the Mount; three grandchildren have recently appeared. Of course his greatest contribution to the community was serving as mayor for nine years; as described elsewhere in this issue. Happily for the Emmitsburg community, the Prestons plan to keep their home here. We wish them well as they start this new chapter in their lives.


The community-minded teacher

William H. Carr
Mayor, Town of Emmitsburg

  • Elected Commissioner in April 1980
  • Elected Board President in May 1981
  • Elected Mayor in April 1982, Served until 1991

Dr. Robert Preston, recent recipient of the Mount Saint Mary’s President’s Medal, served the Town of Emmitsburg as mayor from 1982 through 1991. A Council member from 1980 through 1982 and again as Commissioner in 1991 through 1992. Wearing two hats was Bob Preston’s role through periods of growth and change both for Mount Saint Mary’s College and the Community of Emmitsburg. His accomplishments at Mount Saint Mary’s College are well known and have been acknowledged in other stories, but his glowing record as Emmitsburg’s commissioner and nine years’ service as mayor may not be as well known.

While carrying a full load at Mt. St. Mary’s, Dr. Preston became interested in Town activities and government in the late 1970’s and finally resolved to become actively involved in 1980 when he was elected a commissioner. Following a year of internship he was elected by the Council as its president in 1981. His enthusiasm, interest and abilities led to Council and citizen support as a mayoral candidates in 1982. The successful election of Robert Preston as mayor in 1982 was the beginning of a nine-year period during which Mayor Preston guided our community through stabilization, growth and recognition.

Profoundly fair, Mayor Preston quickly established a sense of order in Town government regarding existing ordinances and rules. Deliberations by the Council were always structured with fairness to the community and its citizens as a foundation to the Council’s actions. While not always pleasant, the resolve of the Board was to be fair minded. The Town meetings soon became a sounding opportunity for acting government and citizens alike to express support, complaints and suggestions for Council consideration. Mayor Preston’s leadership talents were instrumental in accomplishing a stabilizing effect on Emmitsburg’s governmental actions.

Emmitsburg’s identity is Small Town America and Mayor Preston did much to preserve and enhance that identity. Perhaps a highlight during Mayor Preston’s tenure was the main street refurbishment and the resulting Main Street Award from the State. From a high-crowned and badly drained central street to an attractive lamp-lit main thoroughfare–this accomplishment of Town government will always he remembered as being done while Bob Preston was mayor. There were other growth factors that took place during this period that are not as evident as our main street. The Town has a modern sewer plant facility that was established during Mayor Preston’s tenure. Although the sewer plant initiative was the result of many people working in many areas, planning, fiscal and construction, it was under Mayor Preston’s leadership!

Recognition of Emmitsburg outside our boundaries as to who we are and what we are trying to accomplish is paramount to our success in many ways. Mayor Preston was aware of this fact early on during his tenor as Mayor. Outgoing in personality, Bob Preston was active in county and state functions. A participant and onetime President of the Council of County Governments, our Mayor made many friends involved in government who helped us then and are still attuned to our Town.

This synopsis of Dr. Preston’s dedicated service to Emmitsburg is greatly condensed. The vast number of meetings, the late night phone calls, the travel to out-of-town commitments, the mediation of citizen complaints and the pressure of his full-time job all equated to a heavy load, Bob Preston handled it well.

The citizens of Emmitsburg were fortunate to have had Dr. Preston as the community’s Mayor; he will be long remembered

Read Bob Memories of his tenure as Mayor of Emmitsburg

Do you know of an individual who helped shape Emmitsburg?
If so, send their story to us at: history@emmitsburg.net

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