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Harford school board pays tribute to late member Kathryn Carmello

This black ribbon was posted below the name plate of Harford County Board of Education member Kathryn Carmello, who died suddenly on Dec. 23. Her colleagues paid tribute to her during their meeting Monday evening.
This black ribbon was posted below the name plate of Harford County Board of Education member Kathryn Carmello, who died suddenly on Dec. 23. Her colleagues paid tribute to her during their meeting Monday evening.(David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Harford County Board of Education member Kathryn Carmello was known for many professional accomplishments — serving as the school system’s liaison to the state government, a PTA president and working as a nurse — but her greatest accomplishment in life was her family, according to one board colleague.

Anybody who had a conversation with Carmello would not walk away “without knowing three very important details,” Board of Education Vice President Rachel Gauthier said.

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Gauthier and her fellow board members, as well as HCPS Superintendent Sean Bulson, paid tribute to Carmello, who died suddenly on Dec. 23 at age 68, during their meeting Jan. 13. A black ribbon, tied in a bow, was placed in from of Carmello’s name plate on the front of the dais in the board meeting room in the school system’s headquarters, the A.A. Roberty Building in Bel Air.

“The news of her passing was devastating to all of us,” board President Jansen Robinson said. “The outpouring of support from Mrs. Carmelo’s family and our school community during this time of grief is illustrative of the generous and caring way in which she lived her life.”

The three key details about Carmello included how her husband, Ed, “was just absolutely the love of her life,” that “she had four beautiful and amazing children that she was super, super proud of” and that she had 13 grandchildren, a number which made Carmello “very, very proud,” according to Gauthier.

“She was an amazing friend, she was brilliant at all the jobs she did, but her most important accomplishment was her family, and we will miss her here because she was also a part of our family,” an emotional Gauthier said.

Carmello retired from the school system in 2017, and she was elected to the board from Councilmanic District C in 2018.

Board member Dr. Roy Phillips, a local physician and endocrinologist, recalled hiring Carmello as a part-time nurse at his private practice when she and her family moved to Harford County about 25 years ago.

“It took maybe five minutes for me to realize that she was going to be something special, and she was hired on the spot,” Phillips said.

He noted how Carmello took charge in his office, and how “she treated every patient as if they were a member of her own family.”

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“More importantly to me, we became good friends,” Phillips said.

He tried to get Carmello to come back to his practice after she and her family returned to Harford County, having relocated to New Jersey for a few years, but “she had outgrown me professionally” and went to work for the school system.

Phillips said he met up with Carmello during the December 2018 inauguration of Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, who had been elected to a second term in November. The pair talked, and Phillips said he was looking for “new challenges” and ways to stay busy following the passing of his wife about six months prior.

Carmello suggested that Phillips apply for one of three appointed seats on the nine-person school board. The remaining six seats are filled by adult members elected in County Council districts. A 10th person, an HCPS student member, also sits on the board.

He said he was “a little panicked” upon learning he had been selected, and he contacted Carmello, who said she and other board members would teach him everything he needed to know, “and we will have fun.”

“She was the heart and soul of this board — we relied on her expertise and knowledge,” he said. “She worked tirelessly for nearly two decades to improve, not only the quality of education for thousands of students, but she advocated for the faculty and staff as well.”

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Joyce Herold, another new appointed member, said she is “so grateful to have known Kathy and to have been able to call her my friend in the short time that I’ve known her.”

She thanked Carmello for being a teacher, mentor and friend, sharing laughter and stories “that I will hold dear forever.”

“I thank her for the legacy that she’s left behind for so many students, colleagues and friends, and I will miss her dearly,” Herold said.

Student member Christian Walker said Carmello was “one of the main reasons” student members of the Harford school board have voting rights. He noted former students members have said Carmello was “just as much of a teacher to them as the teachers that they had in their classrooms.”

“Her legacy in this position is really what each student member that comes through is able to do, as a result of her work,” Walker said.

Tamera Rush, a newly-elected member from District D, said Carmello “came to be a dear friend,” even though they had not known each other that long.

She recalled that Carmello would sign off from their conversations by saying that she loved Rush.

Rush said she “looked at her like she had three heads” the first time Carmello said that, but Carmello asked her, “'You say you love a movie, you say you love your shoes, why can’t you not tell another person you love them?'”

“Fortunately, about a week before she died, I responded and told her I loved her,” Rush said.

Sonja Karwacki, another new member elected from District F, recalled how she and Carmello had a “shared passion” for taking care of people, especially children. They also had common experiences, as Karwacki has worked as a teacher, administrator and central office official for Baltimore County Public Schools.

They became close friends, talking on the phone several times a day and sharing messages and photos via Snapchat.

“I miss my friend, and I will work very hard to be sure that her legacy is maintained here in Harford County Public Schools, because of the shared passion that we had for doing what’s right for our children — love you, my friend,” Karwacki said.

Patrice Ricciardi, the third appointed member, said Carmello’s passing “has had a significant impact on me,” and that the loss has “very devastating,” despite knowing Carmello for a short time. Ricciardi expressed “my deepest condolences” to Carmello’s family.

“She was a bright star that was taken way too soon from us all, and we need to revel and be thankful in how she touched each of her lives," said Ricciardi, who also said people should “so respect” what Carmello did for the Harford County schools.

Bulson said his relationship with Carmello was mostly professional, discussing how much information she provided on the inner workings of public education in Maryland. He also noted how much Carmello valued her family.

“There’s no question she wanted the very best for our students, you could see when you heard about how she was as a family member, as a mother, grandmother, a wife,” Bulson said.

“She extended that same love and affection and support, care, to the students of Harford County and we appreciate that, and she will definitely be missed on this board and this community,” he added.

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Robinson, who said he had known Carmello for 15 to 20 years, said he feels “partly responsible” for Carmello being on the board. He recalled how he and former member Al Williamson lobbied Carmello to run for a seat, and she finally agreed so Robinson would stop calling her about it.

“Let me tell you, she knew her stuff,” Robinson said, citing her experience with HCPS and connections in Annapolis.

The board president read a resolution from the Maryland House of Delegates, signed by House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Chief Clerk Sylvia Siegert. The resolution stated that the entire House membership “extends its sincere sympathy” and “offers its respectful condolences” to Carmello’s family.

“In Mrs. Carmelo’s honor, we will continue to uphold her commitment to always have a student-centered focus with every decision we make, and to provide our students every opportunity for a successful future,” Robinson said.

Deadline to apply for vacancy approaching

The Harford County Council is tasked with filling Carmello’s seat on the school board. The deadline to submit a letter of intent is 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 28.

The letter may be emailed as an attachment to mdixon@harfordcountycouncil.com or mailed to: Mylia A. Dixon, Council Administrator, 212 S. Bond St., Bel Air, MD 21014.

Council President Pat Vincenti previously told The Aegis he had hoped to name a new board member no later than the Feb. 18 council meeting, but the timeline would depend on the number of applicants.

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