Strikingly tall in stature with a warmly down to earth persona, an ever-gracious hostess fiercely dedicated to historic preservation, art, and animals, Caroline Cline left her distinctive mark on the many whose lives she touched in Dorchester County.
The 10-term mayor of East New Market until her passing at age 89 last July, Cline's towering legacy of service was matched only by her innate southern hospitality, an enduring heritage of her Alabama roots which she wove with ease and charm into her adopted Dorchester County.
Among the many civic roles she'd relished, serving on and leading the boards of the Dorchester County Public Library, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, and the Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area, Cline had also been active as President of the Dorchester County Center for the Arts up until her passing.
"Knowing how she loved seeing everyone come out to Second Saturdays at the Arts Center, we felt it was an especially fitting occasion to come together and celebrate her very special life," noted Barb Seese, DAC Executive Director.
In the Center's festively outfitted Main Gallery, amid Merry Mart holiday creations on display, friends gathered on Saturday, Nov. 12, to honor Cline, savoring favorite memories, and learning of several ways the county will honor her many contributions, including a Heart of Chesapeake Heritage Area award and a park she was instrumental in creating being named for her.
Heart of Chesapeake's Management Chairman Lou Hyman, a fellow native Alabaman, shared the news that the group's 2022 Volunteer of the Year Award had been posthumously presented to Cline and that, going forward, it would be known as the Caroline Cline Volunteer of the Year award.
Hyman presented the award to Steve Tolley, who took over as East New Market mayor upon Cline's passing. The award will be displayed at the ENM Town Hall until Cline's family arrives to officially receive it on her behalf.
As Tolley gratefully accepted, he shared news that the East New Market town board had recently voted to designate Friendship Park as Caroline Cline Memorial Park. The public will be invited to attend when new signage posting and a ribbon cutting ceremony takes place in the Spring.
Cline was the driving force behind preserving the property surrounding historic Friendship Hall from commercial development and creating a perpetual community open space, known as Friendship Park, which houses a multi age level playground, story walk, little library, and pavilion area.
State Sen. Addie Eckardt presented Seese and current DAC board president Betsey Harrington with a special Senate citation, honoring Cline's enduring contributions, and shared the unique ways she helped make such a difference, on so many levels.
"She was very protective of the deep, rich cultural history here in Dorchester County and especially in East New Market. She also had an incredible gift of weaving in many threads of food, tradition, and customs into a presentation and hospitality that was second to none," Eckardt recalled.
She also noted the impact of Cline's ever present artistic flair and love of learning from everyone she spoke with, Eckardt added. Among the qualities she especially remembers are her vision, tenacity, and that warm, caring spirit, coupled with a pragmatic determination to hold people accountable for getting things done, by a specific date," she noted.
Several in attendance stepped forward to offer tributes to the ways Cline had helped mentor and inspire them, including former DAC Director Mickey Love and Cabin Creek Animal Hospital owner veterinarian Donna Flaggs.
"Caroline let me believe it doesn't matter how old you are, if you still have the fight, and the drive, and want to make a difference, you can," Love recalled. "I'm so pleased to see people here to honor her, she so deserves to be honored for how much she's done for the community, how much she loved East New Market, and how much she loved her animals, treating them like they were people, celebrating their personalities."
Love also spoke of Cline's personal support during difficult times in her life, how much it meant, and how she'd been like a mother to her in many ways.
Flaggs, who lost her own mother at 14, echoed those sentiments, and spoke of Cline's welcoming spirit.
"When I met her, I was just out of veterinary school, and she accepted me totally, even though I was green, I was a woman, I was a 'come-here,'" she added. "She loved to be a mentor to young people, just as her husband did."
"She was a force of nature, a force to be reckoned with, you wanted her on your side. The 18th century evenings at her house (Buckland, which dated from 1742) were wonderful, with fires and candlelight," Flaggs mentioned.
"I love all of you for doing this for her. She was a woman who we all should look up to. I'm honored and privileged to have had her in my life," Flaggs added.
More than a few recounted Cline's extra special love for the animals in her life, including Laura Layton, who recalled her attending a book club meeting with a tiny kitten tucked inside her coat throughout, explaining that she had to keep her warm.
"She was one of a kind, and we miss her," Layton mentioned.
DAC Board Secretary Marlene Lashuk spoke fondly of her first chance encounter with Cline at Denton's Arts Center, which blossomed into a treasured nine-year friendship.
Almost immediately after making her acquaintance, Cline began enlisting Lashuk in her wide circle of favorite activities, hosting garden tours, judging dog shows and Christmas displays, and enjoying dinners at her home where southern stories were always served up, to her delight.
"She would have loved being here tonight, seeing all these familiar faces, talking all among you. I know she's here in spirit," Lashuk added.
Enhancing the evening's flavor, Former Dorchester County Library Director Jean Del Sordo brought a platter of pimento cheese and pickled okra to share, a tribute to Cline's perennial Southern favorites, which were always served at her home.