Sam Marshall, Howard County's social services director for 30 years and the longest-serving local director in Maryland, is retiring at the end of next month.
Marshall, who will turn 62 before he leaves, is the latest in a group of high-ranking Howard officials who have begun retiring after decades overseeing the county's explosive growth as Columbia and the once-rural land around it was developed.
He said he is reluctant to leave amid Maryland's budget turmoil and the toll that rising caseloads have taken on his depleted staff. But 40 years of work is long enough, and he wants time to enjoy a bit of leisure.
"I've been in Howard County since November '74," he said. He began working for the state service as a $4,000-a-year "social worker assistant" after graduating from what was then Morgan State College in July 1964.
"I'm going to do a little traveling," he said, and he plans to see more of his 4-year-old granddaughter, who has told him she would enjoy a jaunt to Disney World.
"I'd just like the opportunity that I can if I want to, and I don't have to if I don't want to," he said, noting that his father retired after a long government career - only to die shortly thereafter.
Marshall was praised by state and local officials yesterday, even as he struggles to cope with scores of vacancies in a staff 30 percent smaller than when a state hiring freeze began in October 2001. Last month, Marshall's staff told county social services board members that state officials have refused permission to fill five badly needed support jobs - even though the funding would come from county and private funds.
"This whole thing is just outrageous," County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said about the state refusal to allow the vacant clerical positions to be filled.
Marshall will be missed, Guzzone said.
"Sam has always had the client at the heart of anything he's done. He understands the system is there to serve the vulnerable," said Camille Wheeler, who for 19 years was Marshall's counterpart in Baltimore County. "He's a person of considerable integrity and knowledge - a true professional," she said, comparing him with some newer officials with more political backgrounds.
Melody Higgins, chairwoman of the county social services board, said, "I'm personally very saddened that he is going to leave," though she is "happy that he'll retire and enjoy his life. He's done a tremendous job for 30 years."
Howard County Executive James N. Robey called Marshall "a great guy," whom he got to know as county police chief, when both were members of the child advocacy center's board.
"He's always concerned about doing what's best for people in need," he said.
Robey said the county will advertise for a new director, send a name to the County Council for approval and then forward the name to the state secretary of human resources for what is called "concurrence."
Christopher J. McCabe, state human resources secretary and a former Howard County state senator, also praised Marshall as a "dedicated public servant," adding, "He's had the challenge of helping those in a county where the perception is of wealth. But Sam understands that there are people in Howard County who need social services."
Marshall said he has been thinking about retiring and talking to his family about it for some time but that he has been reluctant to go during the prolonged budget crisis.
"I don't want my people to think I'm running out on them," he said. "The only consistent resource you have are the people who do this work. I'm getting joy from the work, and given where they are, most of them are doing this out of love and compassion."