Robert Pascal United Propane

His record of what he's done speaks for itself." No doubt, that description of Robert Pascal by long- time business partner Bob DeStefano refers not only to the business side but also to the political and personal facets of this former New Jersey boy. "I grew up on the street corner where 'The Sopranos' is being filmed," Pascal says, "and attended Bloomfield High School in Essex County."

A football scholarship sent Pascal to Duke University and he graduated in 1957 with a degree in economics. Just prior to graduation, Pascal was drafted by the Baltimore Colts, but never actually played for them. He chose, instead, to accept the guaranteed money offered by the Canadian Football League ("probably the one real regrettable thing I have done. I would love to have played with those [Baltimore] guys"). That year, Pascal had recently lost his father and found himself the main wage earner for the family. "That's what the deciding factor was," he explains.

After a year in Montreal, Pascal moved to Coral Gables, Fla. where he got into the LP gas business with his then father-in-law. After three years, Pascal purchased the Maryland corporation, a very small operation with locations in Glen Burnie and St. Michaels. United Propane now boasts 11 branches throughout Maryland and Delaware, with a new site opening soon in West Virginia. The company employs 140 people throughout the 11 locations to service their 30,000 customers. Propane is fast becoming accepted by the public as an efficient alternative to electricity in heating homes and operating appliances. Many industrial and commercial operations are switching to propane as well.

Pascal attributes the success of United Propane to attracting and retaining good employees. "It begins and ends with people," he says. "If you want to be successful in any endeavor, it takes more than you. It's gotta be good people. You gotta treat 'em right and you gotta share with 'em."

Pascal cites the company's profit-sharing program as his most rewarding business accomplishment. "The greatest thing has been that the employees in this business are a whole lot better off financially and they saved every dime of it. I have truck drivers with $100,000 in it!"

Darshana Patel, president of United Propane for the last 17 years, says of Pascal, "He is a very, very giving individual. He still wants to help people." Patel continues to be challenged by Pascal's leadership. "He is tenacious, for sure," she says. "Even though he is not here 40 hours a week, he does keep all of us in tow and he challenges us. What we perceive as unachievable, he does not picture that way. And it works."

Pascal won't deny the competitiveness and tenacity that have worked so well for him over the years. "Challenges really keep you young and keep you active and that kind of stuff," he says. "I want to leave this world going 90 miles an hour, somewhere!" Pascal defines his philosophy as never making a decision based on the fear of losing or the fear of making a mistake. "Just take it ongo out there and do it and if you lose, well,...try it again!"

Along a more serious vein, Pascal enjoys quoting Teddy Roosevelt, who said, "I choose not the life of ignoble ease, but the strenuous life. Far better it is to dare mighty triumphs, even though checkered with failure, than to take rank with those poor souls who live in that gray twilight, that know no victory or defeat."

To wit, consider Pascal's political career in Maryland. "I will tell you that, properly motivated, one can get an awful lot done in the political arena," he says. "Really, I think that following or bringing people to one's faith is probably the highest calling but, after that, public service is very high."

Entry into the political arena for Pascal came in the form of a run for the constitutional convention in the late 1960s, a bipartisan election of delegates to rewrite the Maryland Constitution. He chuckles, "We did it and it failed miserably at the polls. It had great intellect but very little political strategy."

Heartened nonetheless, Pascal decided to run for public office. A registered Democrat, he describes the party of that time as the "old guard" Democrats, the "good ol' boys" of traditional politics. He recalls, "I didn't think I could beat 'em in the primary, so I changed my affiliation to Republican. Philosophically, I think I belonged there."

Pascal won the election and spent four years, from 1970 to 1974, in the Maryland Senate. In the succeeding eight years, he was elected and re-elected County Executive for Anne Arundel County and later ran as the Republican nominee for governor in 1982 against Harry Hughes. "It was the wrong time and the wrong place," he says, "but I have no regrets. You don't get to play in the championship game very often. It was a great challenge."

In the late '80s and early '90s, Pascal served as appointments secretary for Gov. William Donald Schaefer. "It was a great experience," he recalls. "I gave jobs away---I was the job fellow. I felt very privileged as a Republican in a Democratic cabinet. He [Schaefer] and I were and are good friends."

Looking back, Pascal is proud of his involvement in the setting of some growth criteria for Anne Arundel County. "We were the second county in the nation to develop an adequate facilities ordinance and we really cut down zoning densities," he says. The purchase of 3,000 acres of recreational park land was also accomplished on Pascal's watch and is still protected. "Thank heaven we did it at that time, because we couldn't afford to do it now," he says. "But what we truly did was cut down the densities, cut down the height of buildings and we prevented Anne Arundel from going the way of Prince George's County and all of the other high-density counties around the metropolitan areas." Pascal was opposed to the subway because of the high density development that typically occurs near subway locations.

So, where does a propane gas wholesaler/retailer garner enough support to run and win in politics? "When I came to Severna Park, I started coaching the Green Hornet Little League team with Bob DeStefano. I did that for almost 10 years in the '60s and '70s. Those parents became the nucleus of my political organization when I wanted to run. Anything I have ever run for, they have been there---the same group of parents, coming out of the woodwork, door knocking for me, manning the polls, manning the telephones." The kids were 12 to 14 years old back then. "They still call me 'Coach' when I see 'em," Pascal says.

The partnership with De-Stefano reached a lot further than football. Together, they own shopping centers on Kent Island and in Severna Park and have partnered in a lot of the residential construction along Bestgate Road. Pascal describes the risk they took in pioneering the strip mall on Kent Island. "We started construction on that with no tenants. And we had a big sign out there that said, 'Sign up---Only a few spots left!' I knew they were going to come...I'm sure glad they came when they did because we were hung out on that one!"

Another of Pascal's challenges was his purchase of the St. Michaels Harbor Inn and Marina, a luxury waterfront hotel and restaurant on the Eastern Shore. "I had no experience in it," he recalls. "I just felt like I could do it as well as anybody else can---even better!"

An ongoing pursuit for Pascal is to just keep figuring out who he is. "Know thyself," he says. "Hopefully, I'm somebody who cares about what's around him because, really, the pursuit of fame and wealth I've had my share of. I tell my grandchildren that I really think money buys you freedom and good health care."

Pascal loves the outdoors, fishing and hunting, and remains very interested in land conservation. He owns a 520-acre farm in Talbot County, a 200-acre farm in Dorchester County next to the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge and another farm at the end of Tilghman Island. He does a lot of work on habitat with Ducks Unlimited and has put most of his acreage into the Maryland Environmental Trust.

Back home on the western shore, Pascal enjoys spending time in his Annapolis condo on the Bay. "Annapolis is such a unique town," he says. "No matter where I go, I hear good things about Annapolis." Pascal treasures the preservation of the historic district and considers the champions of that cause to be true local heroes.

Football is not entirely out of the picture for Pascal, who holds 25 season tickets to Navy games. As far as bringing on any new sports at this stage in life, he threatens to learn how to sail but hasn't yet gotten around to it. He smiles and says, "That may be one of my last challenges."


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