Karen J. Michalec, an assistant to the Anne Arundel County health officer who helped start several social service programs, died Sept. 28 of cancer at the Stella Maris Hospice at the Mercy Medical Center. She was 53 and lived in Annapolis.
Among the programs she helped to start was Sarah's House, the homeless shelter at Fort Meade that opened in 1987.
Miss Michalec was described by O. James Lighthizer, the former county executive who named her assistant for community relations, as "probably the most compassionate person I ever met. She worked 10 to 12 hours a day, five to six days a week helping people."
As an assistant in the county executive's office from the early 1980s to the early 1990s, Miss Michalec's duties included representing the executive on the Social Services Board. For a time, she was head of the county Department of Aging.
She joined the Health Department after leaving the executive's office and was described by the health officer, Frances B. Phillips, as "a joy to work with extremely trustworthy extremely observant with an ability to size up people.
"Sending her to a meeting was better than going yourself," Ms. Phillips said, explaining that Miss Michalec would provide a precise summary of what happened, complete with anecdotes.
She said Miss Michalec was always introducing her to people at meetings and hearings they attended, passing on her contacts.
Outside work, Miss Michalec was a "passionate shopper, a bargain hunter" who would store unneeded bargains in her car until she gave them to friends, Ms. Phillips said.
From the late 1970s until the early 1980s, Miss Michalec was Queen Anne's County administrator, the second person to hold the job. For about 12 years before that she was assistant director of the Maryland Association of Counties. She had also worked in the Montgomery County Legislative Liaison Office.
Lynda Palmatary, clerk to the Queen Anne's county commissioners, said Miss Michalec was "very knowledgeable. She didn't have to learn the job when she started.
"She always knew the answer when I asked her about a bill," Ms. Palmatary said.
Miss Michalec had been president of the Maryland Capital Chapter of the American Business Women's Association and a board member of the Maryland Association of County Administrative Officers.
Born in Pittsburgh, she lived in the Philippines and in Korea, where her parents were officials of the U.S. foreign aid program, before she came to Maryland in the early 1960s to attend the University of Maryland. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at John M. Taylor Funeral Home in Annapolis.
She is survived by three brothers, Bruce Michalec of West River, Stephen Michalec of Marietta, Ga., and Charles Michalec of Wichita, Kan.; a sister, Stephanie Thompson of Gerrards Cross, England; and several nieces and nephews.