Brinegar leaves huge legacy behind

By Juliette Coulter

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, an award-winning public garden, announces that President and CEO Mary Brinegar will retire from the organization in the next year. Brinegar, who has held the position for 27 years, will remain active until her successor is named. The Dallas Arboretum will form a committee to perform a national search.

Brinegar has been recognized for her accomplishments by many organizations.
Photo courtesy of the Dallas Arboretum

Brinegar announced her retirement to employees and the board on a milestone birthday for her. The Dallas Arboretum will also send the retirement news to its major donors and its 45,000 members.

Dallas Arboretum Board Chairman Jim Ryan said, “Mary shared with leadership more than two years ago that this was her plan. She stayed through the pandemic and its financial challenges, all the while strengthening her internal team to provide outstanding support for an incoming CEO. I want to thank Mary for her dedication to the Dallas Arboretum and the City of Dallas and for all she’s done over the past 27 years to make the Arboretum the jewel of the city. The entire Board appreciates her vision, her standard of excellence and her attention to detail given to all the work taking place in the garden through these many years. She has given the majority of her work life in service to the Dallas Arboretum, and we are one of the country’s top botanical gardens because of her efforts.”

During Brinegar’s leadership, the garden has developed 60 percent of its property, and reworked the original gardens in place. She fulfilled the last parts of the Dallas Arboretum’s mission by adding a strong education program and trial research program.

Structural additions occurring during her tenure included the buildings of the Trammell Crow Visitor Education Pavilion; the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden; A Tasteful Place complex with the Test Pavilion; the Margaret and Jay Simmons Lagoon and gardens; the Boswell Family Garden; the McCasland Sunken Garden; the Richard L. Grant Octagonal Fountain Garden; the Nancy Clements Seay Magnolia Glade; the Henry Lindsley Shadow Garden; the Jan and Richard McMillan Fountain Renovation; the Nancy Rutchik Red Maple Rill and the Martin Rutchik Concert Stage and Lawn; the Jeanne L. Johnson Pavilion; the Tres Amigas garden; the Martha Brooks Camellia Garden; and Linda’s Pocket Garden.

 Additionally, Brinegar helped guide renovations of the parking lots, updating of the DeGolyer House and Camp House; the renovation of major garden areas including the Lay Family Garden and Terrace; the Palmer Fern Dell; the Rose Mary Haggar Rose Garden; the Dann Talley Kincheloe Courtyard and many other smaller areas. The Dallas Arboretum secured a loan for a parking garage, bought the land for a greenhouse and then built structures on it.  

Major exhibits were added such as the Pumpkin Festival, The 12 Days of Christmas, the Dazzling Christmas Tree and the Pauline and Austin Neuhoff Christmas Village to boost attendance. 

In 2012, she helped bring a Chihuly sculpture exhibit (pictured at right) to the garden—the first time attendance reached a million visitors. The Dallas Arboretum now has year-round activities and festivals for all interests, and has been named by many national sources as a major attraction in the city. 

Brinegar has been recognized for her accomplishments with the SMU Distinguished Alumni Award; the Virginia Chandler Dykes Award Recipient from Texas Woman’s University; The Dallas Historical Society Award for Excellence in the Arts; Honorary Membership in the American Association of Architects in Dallas and later in the State Association; Kappa Alpha Theta of the Year; Junior League Sustainer of the Year; Hall of Fame Awardee from Woodrow Wilson High School; 100 Women in 100 Years; and Selfless Women to Remember: An Exhibition of Portraits by Gittings.                                     

She was awarded Fundraiser of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and served on the American Public Garden Association national board for six years.

 The Dallas Arboretum, with a current budget of $26 million, has operated in the black for more than 28 years and welcomes a million visitors a year. The Arboretum has been recognized extensively on a national basis with listings regularly among the finest gardens in America. Additionally, Architectural Digest and others have named the Dallas Arboretum as one of the leading gardens in the world.