He was a school teacher, a civic leader, a public official, a restaurateur and an avid golfer.
And as tributes began this week after word circulated of the death of Richard "Dick" Roulette, many remembered him as a great friend and companion.
He was "definitely family," said Melinda Protsch Mensch, who worked at all three of Roulette's local restaurants. "There's no doubt about that. I always thought of him as a friend … but definitely felt like he was family because he was involved (with) all my kids."
"He will be missed as a great visionary and he will be missed as a great person," said former Washington County Commissioner Ron Bowers.
Roulette served as a Washington County Commissioner from 1982 through 1994. He was the commissioners' vice president during his first term and later served as president.
He wasn't the first Roulette to serve as a county commissioner; his great-great-grandfather, William Roulette — occupant of the well-known farm during the Battle of Antietam — had also been a Washington County commissioner.
He retired from teaching school to open Oliver's Pub in the Long Meadow Shopping Center on Hagerstown's north end with partner Bill Fennel, and later opened The Grille at Park Circle withe partner Bobby Ginsberg.
Several years after the Grille closed, the late David Rider coaxed Roulette out of retirement to manage The Grille at Runways at the Rider Jet Center.
Born in Hagerstown, Roulette attended local schools, became an Eagle Scout and was a student-athlete at South Hagerstown High School. A graduate of Gettysburg College with a degree in political science, he obtained a master's degree in education from Seton Hall University and served six years in the Army Reserve.
He taught at Lincolnshire Elementary and was teaching social studies at E. Russell Hicks Middle School when he first ran for county commissioner in 1982 at age 34.
"The whole worked well together. We had three Democrats, two Republicans, and we really worked hand in glove on projects," remembered Hagerstown attorney John Salvatore, who was elected to the board of commissioners with Roulette that year.
"And I was happy to say that in that particular four years that I worked there with Dick, we did a lot of things, made a lot of improvements, and at the time, I think the only tax increase was a 2% tax on real estate," Salvatore said.
But Roulette's tenure was not without controversy, and he had to battle perceptions right from the start.
Some accused him of a conflict of interest because both he and his then-wife were employed by Washington County Public Schools, which every year gets a huge chunk of the county budget — both for operations and capital improvements. It didn't help that Roulette was a past president of the Washington County Teachers Association.
But Roulette maintained that his knowledge of education was an asset.
He "obviously had a big interest in the county school system and teachers as well as all the the kids in school, and we tried to bring things pretty much up to snuff," Salvatore said.
"What we had inherited was a lot of schools that had delayed maintenance; I think there were probably more leaky roofs in the system than weren't leaking. And a lot of other things needed to be corrected, updated or expanded, and there was a big emphasis on on just the physical plant of schools being brought up up to date."
But Roulette was just as interested in economic development, Salvatore noted, and "as part of that board, with Ron Bowers being the chairman, we were able to put in some more industrial parks, get business incentives."
That board also added a needed wing to the Washington County Detention Center, reworked the Highfield water system in Cascade, developed the park now named for late Commissioner Marty Snook, and added T-hangars and other expansions to the Hagerstown Regional Airport.
"It was an action board, and Dick was one of the main factors behind that emphasis on new buildings, new structure, new development," Salvatore said.
Jeff Cline, current president of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, said he was "very saddened" to learn that Roulette had died.
He said he spoke with Roulette occasionally and sometimes asked the former commissioner about his opinions on different issues.
He said Roulette consistently replied, "always do what you believe is right for the people."
In a text message, Commissioner Charlie Burkett offered "prayers to the family and friends of Commissioner Roulette upon his passing."
Commissioner Wayne Keefer recalled the only time he met Roulette.
"I met Mr. Roulette just once, after I first became a county commissioner, at Runways," he said. "We had a great conversation, like we had known each other forever. (He was) very knowledgeable of all things county government."
'How'd you like to open up a restaurant?'
In 1984, Roulette took what became a permanent leave of absence from the school system and he and Fennel opened Oliver's, with on old-English vibe that featured an ornately carved bar and antique mirrors and lights.
Fennel said Wednesday that Oliver's was his idea.
"I worked in the garment industry with my family under E.J. Fennel Inc.," he said, and when the restaurant space became available, "I just started thinking, why not? Let's open up a restaurant in the north end of Hagerstown — there's really nothing out there."
Fennel loved the pub-restaurants on Market Street in nearby Frederick, "so we started putting that together. And I realized I couldn't just leave my business at E.J. Fennel, so I contacted Dick … and I said, 'Hey! How'd you like to open up a restaurant?'"
The pub quickly became a favored north-end watering hole, and with live entertainment on the weekends, the crowd at the bar would sometimes be four- or five-deep.
"When he opened Oliver's, that was just great," recalled Jamie Costello, now a news anchor for WMAR-TV in Baltimore.
But when Costello was cutting his TV-news teeth at WHAG-TV in Hagerstown, "I lived on Oak Hill and I just walked down to Long Meadow … and I remember going in there on Saturday afternoons and just not leaving. And he just made it just a warm, warm atmosphere."
"We didn't talk politics in there," Costello said. "He was just a great businessman. It was tough to hear yesterday."
"Dick had a great personality," Fennel said. "Everybody that knew him really liked Dick."
And the fact that people knew him, both as a commissioner and a teacher, didn't hurt.
"That also helped the business really get off the ground because of that name recognition for Dick," Fennel said. "Nobody knew me."
Mensch, who now lives in Rehoboth Beach, Del., went to work for Roulette and Fennel about a week after Oliver's opened.
"I walked in there, had never waitressed … but I walked in there at 18 and I remember not even knowing what I was doing. And he's sitting there telling me I need to talk more, I need to smile more … 'You really need to talk to those people.'"
She took his instructions to heart. So by the time she worked for him years later at The Grille at Runways, "He goes, 'You need to stop talking so much!' And I said, 'Dick, you trained me — you created this monster; you're the one that told me I needed to smile more and talk more, and here I am today.'"
'Needed to take a break'
Roulette was re-elected as commissioner in 1986 and 1990. In 1989, he opted to sell his part in Oliver's to Fennel. He "needed to take a break," he told The Herald-Mail. "It's six days a week, 80 to 90 hours a week."
He became a full-time commissioner, vowing to The Herald-Mail that at some point he would "probably look at getting involved in some type of business … but not a restaurant."
And he didn't. For a while.
Politically, he found himself mired in more controversies. The construction of the Black Rock golf course had angered people who didn't see the need to spend the money. And though he was part of an advisory committee concerned with land use in the southern portion of the county, particularly in the area of the Antietam National Battlefield, he was rumored to be part of a conspiracy to develop the area with resorts and hotels.
Instead, he proposed a buffer zone around the battlefield to discourage inappropriate development.
"He led the efforts and had a lot of patience and wisdom on the protection of the battlefield area," Bowers said, with the creation of two overlay land use zones to keep the battlefield entrance "pristine."
The construction of the expensive Conococheague Water Treatment Plant that he championed near Williamsport also raised eyebrows. But Roulette maintained that it was needed to support economic development.
Bowers said, "if we didn't have that plant today, this county would be in one tremendous mess."
But there would be one more controversy to get through. In 1994, former Del. Pete Callas, D-Washington, suddenly withdrew from his race for re-election just days after Roulette had filed to run for the seat.
This wasn't standard procedure, and rumors spread — even among members of the Democratic Central Committee — of a deal between them, even though they both denied them.
Roulette won the primary, but a strong grassroots campaign by Republican challenger Bob McKee led to a stunning upset in the General Election.
It was the first election Roulette had ever lost, he told Herald-Mail Media years later. And he never ran in another one.
But shortly thereafter, he decided to open another restaurant.
"I was at a crossroads," Bobby Ginsberg recalled Wednesday. "My store had burnt down — Leeds (Mens Wear) had burnt down — I guess three years earlier than that. And I'd made a decision that it would have been very, very expensive to rebuild and restock merchandise and all that. And, of course, every young man wants to own a bar, you know, wants to be 'Cheers.'"
The Grille at Park Circle opened on Sept. 5, 1995. Among the staff members were Mensch and others who had worked with Roulette before.
The pub had a vintage sports theme, and had a long run — about 13 and a half years.
Then came the recession of 2008.
"Things got a little rough, and we had lost a very good friend," Ginsberg said. " … He died in Dick's arms, and (Roulette) came to me that night and said,' You know what? This is getting too stressful. I'm not sure I want to do this anymore.'"
It seemed the teacher, golfer, politician and restaurateur was ready for a quiet life.
'He was the smartest man'
Early in 2017, he announced that he would be piloting a third restaurant.
Rider asked him during a telephone conversation if he would take over management of the Runways at the Rider Jet Center. The restaurant had scaled back operations, Roulette told Herald-Mail Media. So he decided to jump back in.
The Runways opportunity “kind of flew in my face,” he told Herald-Mail Media.
He changed the name to "The Grille at Runways" and brought back some favorites from Park Circle.
But health issues ensued, and eventually others were brought in to manage it.
Nevertheless, Mensch said she'd work for Roulette again in a heartbeat. She's told her current employers about the menu items she picked up from Roulette's restaurants and uses the skills he taught her to manage her own staff now.
"He had a good head on his shoulders; he was the smartest man," she said.
Roulette is survived by his mother, Lois Roulette, wife Wendi, daughter Madilyn and sister Mary Roulette Flowers. A visitation is scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday at the Douglas A. Fiery Funeral Home; funeral services will be private.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Former Washington County Commissioner Dick Roulette dies