It’s official: Berlin, Maryland is ‘America’s Coolest Small Town’.  Does that make mayor of Berlin, Gee Williams, America’s Coolest Mayor? Quite possibly! We sat down with Gee recently to discuss everything from his love for Berlin to the honor or living in America’s Coolest Small Town, and we’ve got to be honest, if there were a contest for America’s Coolest Small Town Mayor, Gee would without a doubt have our vote.

Gee certainly knows his town quite well considering he has been in local government for over a decade and has been a Berlin resident for the majority of his life.  From 2003 to 2008, Gee was the town council vice-president, preparing him for his unexpected transition to mayor. “I had the most unusual opportunity as the result of the unfortunate and unexpected passing of our previous mayor, who died in his sleep in May 2008, five months prior to our next town election.  The Town Charter required I become mayor so I gave the job a test drive and have not ever regretted the decision to run for election,” Gee explained. Gee is currently serving his second four-year term.

When asked if he were an Eastern Shore native Gee promptly answered, “Absolutely! I am 65. I have lived in Berlin for most of my life except for the four years I attended the University of Maryland, College Park (Class of 1971) and three years immediately after college graduation when my wife, Betsy, and I lived in her hometown of Ocean City, Maryland.  Both sides of my family trace their origins to the early to mid-1800’s here on the lower Eastern Shore.” Gee went on to proudly illuminate a few of the many reasons why Berlin is so special to him. “First and foremost is the reason my wife and I chose to live in Berlin instead of west of the Chesapeake Bay where there were significantly more and better paying career opportunities – our choice was made based on Berlin’s quality of life.  For us the genuine sense of community is a daily experience. We have always felt, and more than ever as time passes, that we are all part of the larger ‘family of Berlin’. I am also proud to see Berlin leading the way regionally in developing a culture of tolerance and respect for all people, regardless of their race, religion or where they come from.  Although our beautiful downtown architecture makes a great first impression, our shared American values demonstrate daily what truly makes Berlin a special place.”

As for the recent win as America’s Coolest Small Town, Gee couldn’t be more proud. “I was absolutely delighted about the outcome of the nationwide internet voting, especially because this honor resulted from an unbelievable outpouring of pride and friendship that although initiated by our citizens, ultimately succeeded because of the unexpected and overwhelming support from people well beyond our town’s borders,” Gee stated. When he heard the news, Mayor Gee was attending a fundraiser for new town Christmas decorations sponsored by Berlin’s Main Street program and hosted by Berlin’s own Burley Oak Brewery.  At midnight, once the votes were in and it was clear Berlin would be named victor, Gee was there to show his gratitude to the large crowd attending the fundraiser, raising a glass of beer to lead a toast, saying, “as cool as apparently many folks believe we are, in Berlin the best is yet to come!”

Gee emphasized that the exciting victory was a shared one to be celebrated by business owners, politicians, and residents alike. Through cooperation between town government, private enterprise, and non-profits, Berlin’s Main Street has been transformed over the past few years from a place where  businesses were starting to be boarded-up into what  is now a vital, progressive and fun-loving community.  Gee acknowledged that the preparations for achieving the title of ‘America’s Coolest Small Town’ were mostly spontaneous efforts made voluntarily by a wide spectrum of people, both in and out of the area, which only serves to make the title of ‘America’s Coolest Small Town’ all the more rewarding.

Sure everyone has pride for their town, and at ShoreBread, we have pride in all of our local small towns; however, as Gee Williams would say, “A successful community is just like a happy and productive individual…attitude is everything. Among our many popular sayings is: ‘In Berlin we honor our past, but we don’t live in it.’  Looking backward will never get you to a better place in the future.  We have and continue to work every day to truly make Berlin a town of ‘19th Century Charm with 21st Century Living.’ I consider myself very fortunate and honored to be the Mayor of our town at a time when we are adapting and transforming to the opportunities of the future, while preserving the best traditions of our past.” Well said sir…well said.