When Baltimore Reads hired Marlene C. McLaurin as its new executive director, the city's premier literacy agency chose an executive who leads by example, a seasoned administrator with a can-do reputation and a former teacher passionate about books.
The appointment gives McLaurin the chance to head an agency, a challenge that 25 years at United Way has prepared her. McLaurin, 56, begins her new job April 25.
Since the fall, McLaurin has juggled two high-profile jobs: senior executive vice president of United Way of Central Maryland and interim chief operating officer of the Baltimore Urban League.
"Working with the Urban League made me realize how much I missed working with community people," said McLaurin. "With Baltimore Reads ... I want to ensure we are reaching those children and families that are difficult to reach."
McLaurin joined United Way 25 years ago as a research assistant in the organization's New Haven, Conn., office. She moved to Baltimore in 1983 to work for United Way of Central Maryland, where she rose to the top ranks of the agency.
But the former second-grade teacher never lost her zeal for education. So when McLaurin learned that the executive director of Baltimore Reads, Maggi Gaines, was leaving her post, she rushed to apply for the position.
A search firm considered more than 30 applicants and interviewed more than 20 people before recommending McLaurin to head the Baltimore-based child and adult literacy program.
"She's a proven leader," said Carroll D. Nordhoff, chairman of the board of Baltimore Reads. "She has a passion for education, which is very important to us. She has a great knowledge of the Baltimore community, and she has the personal characteristics and professional background that make her an ideal fit."
Larry E. Walton, president of United Way of Central Maryland, said he was happy for his colleague, but less than thrilled for the agency.
"The bad news is we obviously hate to lose someone of Marlene's talent," he said. "The good news is she is staying within the United Way family by moving over to Baltimore Reads."
The literacy organization receives United Way funding.
Those who know McLaurin say Baltimore Reads couldn't have chosen a better person.
"For her to leave the United Way ... I think it speaks to the incredible opportunity that she sees at Baltimore Reads," said her son Mark McLaurin, 27, of Detroit.
Marlene McLaurin, a Milwaukee native who was raised in Boston, earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Hampton University in Virginia and a master's degree in early childhood education from Southern Connecticut State College.
She loves to read, but said working 60 hours a week and singing in two choirs at Payne Memorial A.M.E. Church leaves little time for that. "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey is on her nightstand.
McLaurin wants all children and adults to enjoy reading as much as her 10-year-old granddaughter, Kristen Williams, who lives in Arbutus.
McLaurin is eager to begin her new job, but she knows leaving the United Way family won't be easy.
"I'm not good at goodbyes, and I hate to cry, and I cry at everything," McLaurin said yesterday, shaking her head.
If McLaurin had her way, her last day at work would come and go without fanfare. But a quiet departure is unlikely.
"Marlene is that person everybody would like to have as a next-door neighbor. ... She listens very well and then she knows how to act on what she hears," said Walton, the United Way president. "We are not going to let her go quietly."