BJ Dixon joined the town of Mount Airy in April 1979 as a planning and zoning clerk, but quickly began doing almost anything that needed doing, according to those who know her.
Now, more than 26 years later, she's officially Mount Airy's town clerk and head of its permit department, coordinating the town planning commission and board of zoning appeals. But she also involves herself in a lot of other areas for the town.
As a result, Dixon has been named municipal employee of the year by the Maryland Municipal League Inc. A plaque will be presented to her during the league's convention in Ocean City, scheduled for June 26-29, said Karen A. Liskey, assistant executive director of the league and its convention manager.
"It's just one employee, statewide," Liskey said. Dixon was chosen from among employees of the league's 157 incorporated cities and towns by its City and Town Administrators Department - the only ones not eligible for the honor.
"I've spent most of the time in permits and inspections," Dixon, 59, said recently. "It's the love of my life, you might say."
According to the nomination written by Mount Airy Council President John P. Medve and Councilwoman Wendi Peters, "Ms. Dixon is often on the front line when members of the public come to Town Hall to discuss a problem. ... No matter what the issue, she is pleasant, professional and proceeds with grace under fire."
Peters, who serves as zoning administrator and previously served on the town planning commission, said of Dixon, "We're lucky as a town to have such a dedicated person. She goes way above and beyond the call of duty.
"She's a wealth of information. Because of her length of service with the town, she really is a database for zoning issues. She's a wealth of historical information that often helps to put things in perspective," Peters said.
Born Barbara Jean Hardy, she grew up on a farm on Florence Road in Howard County about five miles from Mount Airy, which her family considered its hometown. She was 9 when a cow stepped on her father while he was milking, Dixon said. "He never got over it; he was in a cast for more than a year, and we lost the farm."
She is married to Carl Dixon, an electrician for Montgomery County schools, and the couple has a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.
"I'm a sports nut. I'm partial to baseball," she said, and has enjoyed camping all her life.
A 1964 graduate of Glenelg High School, where she played field hockey and basketball, Dixon previously worked about 13 years as a secretary at the former Atomic Energy Commission in Germantown before taking the job in Mount Airy.
The town has major items on its agenda now: moving to temporary quarters next month for a yearlong, $1.2 million renovation and expansion of the town hall; a Main Street beautification project; and a proposal to control growth by tying building permits to having adequate public facilities such as water, schools and emergency services.
"BJ Dixon is a mainstay of the staff - a wonderful staff," said Medve, who heads the planning commission that proposed the growth-control measures. Dixon helped to prepare a database for long-term planning.
"She's just a great all-around person. I'm gratified that she'll get the recognition she deserves," Medve said. "She's been a longtime volunteer, served on the Carroll County Planning Commission, secretary of the historical society, and headed our planning department. And with the retirement of Betty Ifert, we all agreed she'd be the perfect candidate to be the town clerk."
Betty G. Ifert was the town's first employee, serving as town clerk for 53 years before retiring in 2003. She also was its only employee for some 23 years, Ifert said, except perhaps for a garbage collector.
When Dixon was hired in 1979, Ifert said, "she came in as planning and zoning clerk, but that wasn't enough for her to do - so she just did anything that needed doing.
"As far as I'm concerned, BJ is a very capable, caring and efficient person, dedicated to her community, her family and her work. And if you want a job done ... she can do almost anything that comes along," Ifert said. "She is deserving of it; very deserving of it."
Dixon said of the award: "I'm not quite sure what to expect, but it's a nice honor. It's just my job."