By Brandywine Conservancy

After a long and esteemed career at the Brandywine Conservancy, Associate Director David Shields retired at the end of June 2021. While we all wish David a happy and much-deserved retirement, we also want to reflect on the incredible legacy he leaves behind.

David began at the Brandywine as an unpaid intern in the summer of 1980, then transitioned to a part-time employee a few years later in February 1983—only to become a full-time staff member later that year. With the advent of the landmark conservation deal to preserve the lands and waters of the King Ranch—as crafted by the Brandywine’s co-founder George A. “Frolic” Weymouth—David worked full time as the Partnership Administrator at Buck and Doe Associates L.P. in March 1984 through March 1988, before returning to the Brandywine as a full-time employee again in April 1988. Under a special arrangement with the Brandywine, he continued to work on the closing out of the Partnership until 1992.

“When we were both young men, I had the pleasure of working together with Dave to obtain the subdivision approvals from the three townships where the King Ranch was located,” said Ross A. Unruh, Esquire, of Unruh Turner Burke & Frees. “Due to Dave’s preparation and engaging personality, the approval process was a breeze.”

“David was instrumental to the success of the King Ranch conservation project,” noted Dorothy Matz, Brandywine trustee. “He recognized the magnitude and importance of this conservation effort that was really unprecedented at the time, and he dove right in. His attention to detail, fastidious research, and continuous focus on the mission was key to preserving such a big piece of Chester County at the time. As it turns out, that was just a starting point for David and the continual preservation efforts of the Conservancy.”

The year David started as a full-time employee, Brandywine Conservancy’s Land and Easement protection statistics were as follows:

Owned: 375 acres
Eased: 3,755 acres
Facilitated: 1,035 acres
Total: 5,165 acres

That is a far cry from where we are now:

Owned: 2,870 acres
Eased: 37,990 acres
Facilitated: 27,267 acres
Total: 68,127 acres

David was there through it all, beginning with the heightened expansion of the Conservancy’s race against time and development pressure to protect the lands and waters of the Brandywine Valley, not least of which resulted in the preservation of the King Ranch and our beloved Laurels Preserve.

“David first worked with my father drafting a conservation easement for our family farm, and after my father passed away, he has been working with my siblings and me to update it,” said Morris W. Stroud II, Chairman of the Brandywine’s Board of Trustees. “From the start, he has been extremely knowledgeable and professional. He has been a terrific partner throughout the process.”

William J. Burke, III, from Unruh Turner Burke & Frees, added: “It has been my pleasure and privilege to work with David on many matters for the Brandywine over the course of many, many years. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of conservation issues, and of course an unmatched institutional knowledge of Brandywine projects. Always a dedicated workhorse, he seems to enjoy the challenge of the more difficult and complex projects. He pays attention to the details. Smart, diligent and a great pleasure to work with.”

David’s career accomplishments also span thousands of acres of protected battle lands from the American Revolutionary War. “His knowledge of the Battle of Brandywine—and willingness to share it with others—and concurrent 20-year efforts to preserve the acres on and around Birmingham Hill—will forever allow these lands, truly hallowed ground, to memorialize the historic events that occurred there in our Nation’s past,” said Ellen Ferretti, Director of the Brandywine Conservancy. “His work will live on in these protected lands and in so much of the beauty and character of the lands in the three adjoining counties (Chester, Delaware and New Castle) that the then ‘Tri-County Conservancy’ was formed to protect.”

Those of us who have had opportunity to work with David know he is a fountain of knowledge and expertise, and he has shared that with us for the good of the mission of the Conservancy and conservation overall. “David’s knowledge is matched by his determination and enthusiasm for the critically important work that has defined his career,” said Virginia A. Logan, The Frolic Weymouth Executive Director & CEO of the Brandywine. “He is among few whose professional legacy is documented by the extraordinary beauty of the lands that are permanently protected, the vibrancy of plain sect farms around the headwaters of the Brandywine and the historic resources that have been preserved for generations to come. David has been instrumental to our success and deserves much gratitude for all he has accomplished in his career. We will miss him and wish him a long, healthy, and happy retirement.”

Not to be forgotten as well, his respect as a professional in this field is nationally recognized.

“Over the course of his career, David has built and leveraged extensive expertise in the field of land conservation to help protect thousands of acres of open space,” commented Ann C. Rose, President of the Board of Mt. Cuba Center. “His work has had a substantial impact on our region, preserving natural areas and historic sites for generations to come. Mt. Cuba Center is proud to count David among its Board of Managers and celebrates his contributions to conservation.”

Brandywine trustee Jack Hines added, “David has been an important part of Brandywine Conservancy because of his dedication to the conservation of our land, his huge part in preserving King Ranch and the Brandywine Battlefield area. His many years of service have created a continuity in our program that is invaluable, as has been his work with other conservation organizations and conservation professionals. We wish David a wonderful retirement to enjoy the beauty of the area he was so much a part of protecting.”

“It’s well deserved but hard to believe David is retiring,” said Andy Loza, Executive Director of We Conserve PA. “I thought that as he aided Brandywine in increasing its conserved lands ten-fold, he could push through a few more decades to make it a hundred-fold. Beyond his great conservation successes, I’ll always fondly remember listening to his words of wisdom over drinks when I was starting out in my career.”

Most recently, David was critical in securing funding for and executing, on multiple leadership levels, the multi-million-dollar, multi-state Delaware River Watershed Initiative—a program of the William Penn Foundation—as well as several National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grants for work within the watershed. His leadership in current activities and planning for the future of the work has been incalculable.

David leaves behind a legacy of protected forests, fields and streams; rolling scenic landscapes; world-class prime agricultural soils; and beauty as part of his long career with the Brandywine Conservancy. A legacy that will last—forever—across generations. He will be missed by current and past staff and partners of the Brandywine Conservancy, but as evidenced here, his work will continue to live on.