2023 Women Trailblazer: Ms. Elizabeth M. Hewlett, Esq.

Elizabeth Hewlett Headshot April 2023

Elizabeth M. Hewlett, is an accomplished attorney and a prolific public servant. She recently completed her second tenure as the Chairman of the Prince George’s County Planning Board and The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), retiring in 2022 upon serving 22 years as Chair. First appointed by County Executive Wayne K. Curry, Ms. Hewlett is the first African American and the first woman to serve in this position and is now the longest serving Chair since the Commission’s 1927 creation by State Law. As Planning Board Chair, she functioned as Chief Executive Officer for the M-NCPPC in Prince George’s County, directing an agency with 6,000 employees, a unionized park police force, and a $395 million operating budget. M-NCPPC provides land use planning for the County, including reviewing development applications, and administers a national award-winning parks and recreation program, encompassing recreational, sports, performing arts facilities and programs, a Smithsonian-affiliated aviation museum, and 28,000 acres of parkland. As Chair, she managed public, quasi-judicial hearings on land-use matters, ruling on and/or recommending approval or disapproval of all development projects in the County and rendering decisions on cases ranging from small subdivisions to large mixed-use developments. She also maintained oversight of an agency that provides community planning services, regulates development, and affords inclusive first-class park and recreation programs for nearly 2 million residents of all ages and abilities in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties.

Highly sought after for her expertise, in 2007 Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley appointed Ms. Hewlett to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), the governance board overseeing the regional public transportation system connecting Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. She quickly assumed chairmanship of WMATA and served on the board for four years, until returning to M-NCPPC in 2011 by appointment of County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III. Mere months after her 2022 retirement from M-NCPPC, Ms. Hewlett was honored to be appointed by President Joseph Biden to the National Capital Planning Commission, where she currently serves as Vice Chair, gratefully utilizing the skills she honed at M-NCPPC.

The majority of Ms. Hewlett’s career was in public service at M-NCPPC, commencing with seven years as Legal Counsel to the Prince George’s Planning Board -- a catalyst to her subsequent appointment as Chair. During the entirety of her 2+ decades as Chair, Ms. Hewlett remained a strong, engaged and compassionate leader known for her legal acumen, fairness and integrity; for uplifting and inspiring her team and connecting with the Prince George’s community that she served. Citing just a few accomplishments – she successfully fostered greater community engagement and input, led the Board in approving award-winning development projects such as National Harbor and Bowie Town Center, several transit-oriented (Metro) development projects, and successfully led the Prince George’s County Census 2000 & 2020 efforts, surpassing the County’s 2010 complete count in the midst of a global pandemic. She skillfully navigated the Commission through the COVID 19 pandemic, ensuring continued service to the County’s nearly one million residents and guests. Without missing a beat, she quickly pivoted to virtual land use hearings with even greater community participation and willingly shared the process with other inquiring agencies throughout the country. She and her team provided outdoor and virtual programs for seniors and created over 120 virtual summer camps for youth before re-opening in person camps. She also provided safe Grand Jury space, pivoted to drive-by events and served thousands of meals to seniors and others in need. During her two tenures as Chair, M-NCPPC received two (2) prestigious National Gold Medal Awards for Excellence in Parks and Recreation and currently holds the National Record!

Licensed in Maryland, DC, Massachusetts, and before Federal Courts and the United States Supreme Court, Ms. Hewlett has also practiced law in both the public and private sectors. She was a principal in the law firm, Shipley, Horne and Hewlett, P.A., where she represented individuals, business and real estate development while also rendering many community pro bono services. She is a graduate of Tufts University, Boston College Law School, and the John F. Kennedy School of Government Executive Program at Harvard University. She is also a graduate of Leadership Greater Washington, Class 5.

Ms. Hewlett has participated in or led dozens of public boards and key initiatives, including: Member/Bar Exam Grader of the Maryland State Board of Law Examiners; Member, Governor’s Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission; Member/Chair of the Metropolitan Development Policy Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) including 24 member jurisdictions in DC, MD and VA and Congress; Member of the Maryland Court of Appeals’ Commission on Fairness and Equity in the Courts; Chair of the Committee to Elect the Sitting Circuit Court Judges; Chair of the Prince George’s County Democrats Legal Voter Protection Team; Member of the MSBA Judicial Selections Committee, the Federal District Court Judicial Selection Panel, and she was appointed by County Executives Wayne Curry and Rushern Baker to Chair the Prince George’s County Census 2000 and Census 2020 Initiatives.

Throughout her career, Ms. Hewlett has also been actively engaged in several legal and professional organizations. She is a proud Life Member of the National Bar Association (NBA), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), and Leadership Greater Washington. She is also a member of the Maryland State Bar Association, the Prince George’s County Bar Association, the J. Franklyn Bourne Bar Association (two-term and first woman President), the Women’s Bar Association of Maryland, the National Forum for Black Public Administrators, the American Planning Association, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., currently serving on the National Council of Legal Advisors.

Regionally recognized for her community service and professional achievements, Ms Hewlett is a recipient of the National Bar Association Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award and the Prince George's County Bar Association “Hon. James H. Taylor Award” for her years of dedication and commitment to the law, the courts, and the community. In 2015, the Prince George’s County Young Democrats bestowed upon her their very first “Wayne K. Curry Distinguished Service Award” for her lifetime achievement and service to Prince George's County. Similarly, in 2021, she was honored by the J. Franklyn Bourne Bar Association. Inc. with the Wayne K. Curry “Spirit of Excellence” Award for her lifetime commitment and achievements. The Maryland Bar Foundation, of which she is a Lifetime Fellow, recognized her with the prestigious “J. Joseph Curran Award for Public Service.” She was named by the Washingtonian Magazine as one of the region’s “100 Most Powerful Women”; by the Daily Record newspaper as an “Influential Marylander” and one of the “Top 100 Women in Maryland”; and by the Washington Business Journal as one of the region’s “Top Women Who Mean Business”. She is also a proud recipient of the NAACP Hester V. King Award.

A firm believer in “to whom much is given, much is required”, Ms Hewlett endeavors in earnest to do her part to mentor countless youth and young lawyers, speak at area law schools regarding the bar exam, organize voter registration drives, serve on the Board of Catholic Charities and engage in many other volunteer efforts. Balancing professional and community service, she also loves reading, gardening, cooking, the performing arts, live music, dancing, old movies, travel, a bold cup of coffee, a glass of evening wine, donning sneakers every chance she gets and spending cherished time with family and friends.

(This biography was provided by the honoree.) 

Councilmember Henri Gardner described Ms. Hewlett this way: 

“A Trailblazer is a pioneer, a person who takes risks and travels an unknown path. They blaze a trail and leave a path for others to follow, and in Prince George's County we have just that special person in Betty" Hewlett. 

In a role which had traditionally been held by a male, and as the first Black American Woman and the first woman to chair the Prince George's County Planning Board of the Maryland National-Capital Park and Planning Commission, Elizabeth Hewlett lead her department to receive six gold medals for excellence in parks and recreation management - the only agency to hold this number of awards in the entire United States. Personally, I've witnessed first-hand her commitment to her role and the positive impact she's left on our City of Bowie and neighboring communities, which is surely to be felt for generations to come."