The Dallas Arboretum’s longtime president and CEO, known for her fundraising acumen that has helped the venue grow significantly during her tenure, announced her retirement on Tuesday. Mary Brinegar had held the position for 27 years.
The official announcement from the East Dallas-based Botanical Garden noted that Brinegar will leave the arboretum “next year” and will remain active until his successor is named.
The arboretum will form a committee, according to the announcement, and conduct a nationwide search to find her replacement.
Brinegar, a Dallas resident who turned 75 on Tuesday, “announced her retirement to employees and the board of directors on a milestone birthday for her,” the announcement read.
“I’ve been talking about it for two or three years,” Brinegar said Tuesday in an interview with The Dallas Morning News. “With the current chairman of the board of directors and the previous one. We had all sorts of issues with COVID and closed the garden for a while. Rebuild. Then we had weather problems. It was unusual. And in the meantime, you don’t want to say, “Well, that’s when I’m going to go.” I want to make sure everything is in good condition.
Regarding his seniority and birthday, Brinegar said with a laugh, “It’s way too long for someone to play a role like mine without giving someone else a chance.”
Board chairman Jim Ryan released a statement saying, “Mary shared with executives over two years ago that this was her plan. She weathered the pandemic and its financial challenges, while building her internal team to provide exceptional support to a new CEO.
“She has dedicated most of her working life to the service of the Dallas Arboretum, and we are one of the best botanical gardens in the country because of her efforts.”
The arboretum recently made headlines because two former employees filed discrimination complaints alleging they were unfairly terminated. In May, David Jeffcoat alleged he was fired and treated badly after telling managers he was gay.
In March, another former employee – who is genderqueer and uses the pronouns she and they – alleged they were fired after complaints from management about their use of expansive pronouns.
Brinegar insisted strongly Tuesday that the double complaint had “absolutely nothing” to do with the timing of his retirement.
“We always had a policy that we didn’t talk about employees who worked here or who were asked to leave,” she said. “We operate like a business. And, of course, we have excellent documentation in place. We do not want discrimination to take place on our property. So we hired outside groups to come and see if they can find any discrimination. To this day, I don’t know anything. But we are waiting for decisions to be made which will show, of course, that there was never any intention of discrimination. And we’re sorry it took so long. We hope a decision will come soon.
A firm attorney representing former employees could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The arboretum noted that, during Brinegar’s 27 years, the garden developed 60% of its property and reworked its original gardens. The number of members is 45,000, with more than one million visitors per year.
Editor Maggie Prosser contributed to this report.