For the past four weeks -- unlike the previous four years -- Muriel Carter has not made a daily trek to the Glen Burnie Improvement Association building to conduct business.
"I don't want to be rude, but no. I don't miss going down there," she said this week.
Perhaps that's because she's taking an exercise class there two mornings a week. Or because she's going through cartons of association papers accumulated since 1978 at home, a task prolonged by endless phone calls. Or because it's been only a month since she last fidgeted with the gavel. Or because she says that although she politely refused a nomination to the group's board of directors this year, she might go for it next year.
She is, by all accounts, the consummate civic leader, the kind of association president who freely gave advice, stood her ground with a smile and whose patience is matched only by her persistence.
Nobody doesn't return Mrs. Carter's phone calls. There's no point. She'll call again. It's part of getting the job done.
A few decades of local political activism -- "Democrats, of course," she says -- taught her how to make those calls, made easier by the fact that she supported the political campaigns of many of the area's elected officials.
"She doesn't have crackpot-type complaints. She's direct, she tells you what the problem is and what she wants you to do," said state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, D-Ferndale.
And how hard is it to turn down her requests? "I don't know," said Mr. Wagner. "I've never said no to her."
Being president of the 1,200-member association in the town where she grew up was the job she sought. She wanted, she says, to make her community a better place -- one reason she joined the associa
tion in the late '60s when it first admitted women.
But why become the organization's first woman president?
"I'm bossy," she says of a skill carefully honed on her two now-grown children.
"I have to tell people how they should do things. If they don't listen, I get frustrated. The best way to tell them what to do and have them do it is to be in a position of authority," she says.
But, says friend and association treasurer Kathy DeGrange, that determination is tempered by common sense. Mrs. Carter "is is willing to listen to your side of the story," Mrs. DeGrange said.
Take the brouhaha over the county-proposed bypass for Thelma Avenue, an issue on which it seemed no two people agreed and everyone claimed to have a better solution. Every time it came up at an association meeting, it threatened to be explosive.
"She didn't tolerate any shouting matches or unfairness," Mrs. DeGrange said.
She invited County Executive Robert R. Neall to an association meeting at the height of the issue, giving him the opening to create a committee in the community to make alternate suggestions and showing him just how fractured the neighborhood was on the matter. The road has not been built.
"She has put improvement back in the Glen Burnie Improvement Association's agenda," Mrs. DeGrange said.
Under Mrs. Carter, the association began a cooperative sidewalk repair program for homeowners, started a health and safety fair, put banners on the streets, opened its
building to more community functions and gotten involved with more traffic and zoning issues.
She is even credited with cleaning up the basement of the association hall. Where stretchers from bomb-shelter days were decomposing with items nobody could recall using, there is now order and shelving.
And there is the matter of visibility.
Mrs. Carter isn't in the limelight, buying tickets to more community events and political affairs than she attends. But she's at plenty of community activities: "How are they going to know you're interested if you're not there," she says.
That's why she sat attentively at Glen Burnie Urban Renewal Committee meetings while her grandson, Wally Morrison, whom she was watching after school, raced toy cars on the carpeting.
Urban renewal, she believes, may be the most significant thing in Glen Burnie in recent memory because it stopped the old downtown from further deteriorating into sleazy nightspots.
She threw herself into association work in a big way after her husband, Richard Carter, died in 1990; Mrs. Carter credits the organization with first helping to get the couple through the difficult months of his illness and then getting her through the heartbreak after his death. The two met when she was 10, wed on New Year's Eve of 1947 and together were active in the community.
This is the first time in about 15 years that Mrs. Carter is not an official with the association. A year ago, she decided not to seek reappointment as a supervisor of elections in Anne Arundel County, a part-time post she held since 1971.
"I'm not going to turn into a hermit," she says.
There is life beyond the association.
At 64, Mrs. Carter is a senior warden at St. Albans Episcopal Church, loves to shop with her two sisters, enjoys a three-hankie movie, reads mystery novels and vows to stick a new bird-feeder in her yard. While putting together tax papers in recent weeks, she says she realized that in the past year, she has been to her vacation property in Ocean City a scant five times, but plans to be there more this year.
And when she has something to say at an association meeting, she'll say it.