Richard W. Story, executive director of the county Economic Development Authority, is usually the personification of cool.
Yesterday, however, he could not resist a prideful smile as he discussed Patrice Hansford Cheatham, his newest staff member.
"Think she's overqualified, huh?" he asked, only half joking.
Ms. Cheatham, who joined the authority last week as a $38,500-a-year business development specialist responsible for working with minority enterprises, boasts impressive credentials.
She was economic development coordinator for the city of Bowie prior to coming to Howard County and had worked five years before that as marketing manager in the Fairfax County, Va., Economic Development Authority.
In addition, she holds master's degrees in public administration and business administration from Howard University in Washington.
"She was by far the consensus choice" of a selection committee that considered 120 applicants and interviewed 14, Mr. Story said.
Mr. Story made the final choice himself. "She has done everything that our job description says," he said. "I want to surround myself with the best athletes I can put on the team, and she brings the skills that we need to be successful."
Success in this instance means working effectively with the Equal Business Opportunity Committee to attract to and support minority-owned businesses Howard County.
Some members of the committee had begun to doubt the county's commitment to minority-owned businesses this spring when Deborah L. Jenkins, the staff member assigned to work with them, was let go by Mr. Story.
Mr. Story had offered contracts to four of six Economic Authority employees, inviting them to stay with the office after March 31, but did not tender a contract to Ms. Jenkins, who at the time was the only black employee in the authority.
Ms. Jenkins has since filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
At the time, committee members said they had no inkling that Ms. Jenkins would not be staying with the authority and worried that her departure indicated a lack of commitment to minority business leaders. County Executive Charles I. Ecker and authority board Chairman Richard H. Pettingill met with the committee in April to allay those fears.
The hiring of Ms. Cheatham seems to have done just that.
"She has been very well received and is an asset both to the Economic Development Authority and to the committee," said committee Chairman Earl H. Saunders. "I don't think she'll have any difficulty at all. She has a capable, extensive background and the personality and chutzpah to get things done. We need the kind of staff support she can -- and I believe will -- provide."
Although she did not officially begin work until last week, Ms. Cheatham had been meeting with the committee prior to that time, Mr. Saunders said.
She began helping the committee plan a minority business exposition for Sept. 27.
"I wasn't here and I cannot judge what happened before I arrived," Ms. Cheatham said. "The people on the committee haven't mentioned it to me. They have welcomed me and made me feel real comfortable."
A native of Washington, Ms. Cheatham attended elementary and junior high schools there before moving to Montgomery County, where she graduated John F. Kennedy High School in 1975.
"I was inquisitive, had a lot of friends, and was involved in all kinds of activities," said Ms. Cheatham, who confesses only to being in her mid-30s.
In high school, she went to classes initially only because she had to, she said, but after scoring well on a college aptitude test, became "more studious and motivated." She was accepted at Douglas College at Rutgers University, where she majored in English and journalism, graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1979.
While at Rutgers, she served a year-long internship at Essence, a black woman's magazine headquartered in New York City. It was there,
she says, that she "learned a little bit about marketing, getting ads and using consumer products in camera shots."
"They didn't publish anything I wrote," she said, but the magazine did use her as a model for a spread on campus fashion. "Mostly I did research for articles," she said. "They paid for my transportation and my lunches and I got to go out with fashion people a lot. I loved it. I wanted to do more, but I had to finish school."
When she returned to college, she was given a "a very sought after job" as night manager for the student center, working from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.
"It was a job that you usually see men in," she said, "because among other things it meant going into the pub and getting rid of the rowdies."
She never had a problem -- "it was a different time," she says -- and despite the hours, she still managed to make the dean's list.
After college, she worked in the federal Food and Drug Administration press office, at IBM as a computer technician, and as editor and chief reporter for the magazine of the National Association of Community Health Centers. During that time, she also went to night school at Howard University, where he earned her master's degrees in January and August in 1990.
Ms. Cheatham, who lives in Montgomery County with her husband and three sons, said she had been interested in working in Howard County for years, "but it was always the wrong time" to make a move before now.
"I'm excited about this job," she said. "I see lot of companies that moved to Howard County and a lot still moving in. I'm here at a good time."