By Greg Ellison
(May 27, 2021) To celebrate the 96th birthday of WWII veteran Sheila Hurst, who launched the Mast Restaurant and Hotel in West Ocean City with her late husband, Capt. Ed Brex, in the 1960s, area first responder agencies joined a drive-by ceremony last Wednesday at her Sunset Avenue residence.
“It was a complete surprise,” she said. “I was having a few of my friends coming in the back yard here and that was it.”
Hurst’s fulltime caregivers, Monique Maher and Pamela Eddy, arranged the birthday honors.
Maher, who became primary caregiver for Hurst early last year, said commemorating her birthday last spring was curtailed by the covid-19 pandemic.
“Last year we couldn’t do anything,” she said. “This year with restrictions getting lifted, we decided to organize a parade for her.”
Hurst was born in 1925 in Chester, England and raised with a dozen siblings, including a handful of brothers and half-dozen sisters.
After graduating high school, Hurst helped England’s efforts in WWII as a civilian with the Ministry of Food before being drafted and joining the Women’s Royal Naval Service in June 1944.
For the next year and a half, Hurst served as specialist small arms gunnery attached to the 65th Canadian Flotilla of military torpedo boats off England’s east coast.
She was honorably discharged in January 1946.
During her life at war in England, Hurst crossed paths with her future husband, Edward Oscar Brex Jr., a midshipman with the Merchant Marine Reserve.
“I met my husband during the war in England,” she said.
The pair wed in April 1946 and immediately after exchanging nuptials headed to the U.S. and, more specifically, to Worcester County where Brex was raised.
“West Ocean City … was a lot different then what it is now,” she said.
Not long after they arrived in the U.S., the couple had to return briefly to England to complete immigration processes for Hurst to enter the country legally.
During that period, their first daughter, Vanessa, was born in England in July 1947. Hurst became a naturalized U.S. citizen in Sept. 1957.
Hurst gave birth to a second daughter, Alyssa, in 1954.
After living on the Eastern Shore for more than a dozen years, the couple invested in dockside property in the West Ocean City commercial harbor.
“West Ocean City was wide open,” she said.
Capt. Brex, who operated a pair of head boats, the “Taurus” and the “Pisces,” joined his wife to open the Mast Restaurant and Hotel on Harbor Road.
“I bought this whole pile of land at auction,” she said. “I did it myself, my husband wasn’t interested, but I always liked it out here.”
After submitting the winning bid, Hurst said other interested parties tried to negotiate a private sale.
“One of the men who bid on the property came to me afterwards and he wanted to know if I wanted to sell it,” she said. “I said to him, ‘I wouldn’t have bought it if I wanted to sell it.’”
Maher said Hurst and Brex operated one of a trifecta of revered early dining outlets in the area.
“Back in the 1960s, there were three restaurants that really did business … the Embers, Mario’s and the Mast,” she said. “According to everybody that’s old enough to remember those days, the preferred restaurant was the Mast.”
The seaside locale was famed for serving fresh-caught seafood and providing sunset cruises for patrons.
“We served bluefish,” Hurst said.
Since landing on the Eastern Shore 75 years ago, Hurst has been a dedicated parishioner at St Mary’s Star-of-the-Sea in Ocean City.
“I’ve been going there ever since I came here,” she said.
In recent years, Hurst has made weekly church treks with assistance from Patricia Johnson, a childhood friend with her kids.
“I’ve known her since she was nine years old and she was this little girl,” she said.
Maher credited Ocean City Councilman Mark Paddack, who presented Hurst with an official proclamation, for lending guidance to help organize last week’s surprise birthday parade.
In hopes of adding an extra degree of excitement for the birthday celebration, Maher contacted numerous area emergency responder agencies, including: the Ocean City Police Department, the Ocean City Fire Department, the Ocean Pines Volunteer Fire Department, Natural Resources Police, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and Maryland State Police.
“Every single one of those organizations were there, including the Coast Guard and Ocean City Beach Patrol,” she said.
Following the siren-blasting greeting for Hurst, the festivities continued with a host of friends and colleagues congregating for food, drinks and live entertainment from musician Jack Worthington.
Hurst said the gathering would have been unlikely without Maher’s involvement.
“She’s my caregiver and looks after me every day,” she said.
In addition to assuring Hurst maintains proper dietary habits and obtains sufficient rest, Maher lends aid for gradually diminishing mobility issues.
“At my age, I don’t walk like I used to and that’s the worst thing not being able to walk,” she said. “I’ve got two flights of steps and I get up and down those by myself.”