Mary Ann Kelly, secretary to Westminster's mayors for more than 40 years, is retiring Friday.
Her hair, once as red as a blazing sunset, is a shade lighter than blond. She jokes that her memory is not as good as it once was, and she walks a bit slower than she did when she began her career in June 1954, two days after graduating from Westminster High School.
But those who know Kelly well say she is the same hard-working woman who started out as a city clerk, typing up Westminster's sewer and property tax bills.
"She's just a great person, the kind of person citizens could contact about their complaints and she'd take what they said to heart," said Leroy L. Conaway, 68, who served as the city's mayor from May 21, 1973 to May 15, 1989.
Her ability to soothe the slighted has made Kelly, 62, indispensable to the six mayors she has served. In Westminster, in other Carroll County towns, elected officials work part-time -- leaving much of the day-to-day business to city managers and executive secretaries.
"When someone calls here for the mayor, Mary Ann, for many, many years, has been the person they talked to," said Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works. "She has the ability, because of her knowledge of how issues have been handled over time, to address a citizen's questions herself or direct that person to the proper department."
Not an easy task considering Westminster's recent growth. When Kelly started working for then-Mayor Joseph L. Mathias, founder of Mathias Monuments, in 1954, the city's population was about 5,000. It has tripled since then.
"I've seen a lot of changes," said Kelly, who is often too busy to step out for lunch, preferring instead to bring a sandwich. "When I started, there was just myself and another girl working in the office. There was no such thing as 'executive secretary.' The position wasn't created until 1967."
As the city's population grew in the mid-1960s and 1970s, government agencies became more departmentalized. The departments of recreation and planning and public works were formed. Naturally, the mayor's duties also multiplied.
"Mary Ann has been a guiding force," said Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan, who is serving his second term in office.
"She's made the burden of office much lighter," Yowan said. "And she's always done it with a smile. She is consistently, day after day, the most pleasant person to be around. Always upbeat."
Upbeat even after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996. Upbeat during surgery and recovery. Upbeat even through daily radiation treatments.
And always respectful.
"She's always called me Mayor Yowan, never once by my first name," said Yowan, who checked on Kelly frequently when she was ill. She has not had any recurrences.
"I've asked her over the years to call me Ken. I've never been comfortable with people calling me mayor," Yowan said. "She says that once she retires, she'll start calling me Ken."
Laurie Womer, 37, former office manager for the nonprofit Alpha Pregnancy Care Center in Reisterstown will succeed Kelly as executive secretary.
"I know I'll never be able to replace her," said Womer, who lives in nearby Hampstead. She started working at City Hall on May 11. "There's a lot to absorb."
Kelly, never one to take it easy, said she plans to travel to "the big places" like Alaska and Hawaii, and spend more time with her only child, Brenda Kelly, who lives in Virginia. "And perhaps I'll do some volunteer work," Kelly said. "Maybe with the American Cancer Society."
Pub Date: 5/27/98