Drawing from her own experience

In a sophisticated age of specialization and multiple graduate degrees, Victoria "Vicki" Goodman is a throwback.

A child from Daniels, a 19th-century Patapsco River mill town that no longer exists, a woman with brains and ambition but no college degree, she moved from the bottom to the top rungs of county government over a 30-year career. Along the way, she developed her natural artistic talent, adding graphic design, marketing and political and public information skills to her resume.


From the vaguely psychedelic-looking first Wine in the Woods poster to the county logo showing a big "HC" adorned with a few stalks of wheat, Goodman's touch is virtually on every government brochure or advertisement the public has seen for decades.

Her enthusiasm shines through, even for what some might see as a slightly corny attempt to get public attention - like Ready Eddie, the county's costumed herald for homeland security preparedness.


"I have been so fortunate here. I have had one door after another open for me," she said, looking over a sampling of years' worth of her artistic and marketing creations on the county's behalf. "When opportunity knocked, I never turned it away."

Goodman, 52, officially is retiring as Howard County's director of communications Jan. 31, though she will stop working Tuesday. She has been replaced by a young communications specialist.

Kevin Enright, a 34-year-old former TV reporter, spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department and former Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, is taking over for Goodman in the new administration of 32-year-old Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.

When Goodman started in 1976, county Central Services Bureau chief A. Roy Stetcher hired her to be the fifth person in his then-tiny office. Now, the bureau counts more than 10 times that many workers.

"When she came in, she was doing print work, typesetting and graphic design," Stetcher recalled, as well as checking a few vehicle engine oil dipsticks and washing a few cars in the county's motor pool.

"She was a hard worker and a great artist," said Stetcher, now retired and living in West Virginia. "If you had a round idea in your head, she could put it on paper in a day. It just came to her naturally."

Her reputation for artistic talent, marketing instincts and a willingness to work spread in what was then a very small bureaucracy. By 1981, she had moved to the public information office and began designing brochures and advertisements for county programs full time.

"They did not have any other resources, in-house," Goodman said.


"She is a superb artist," said former County Councilman C. Vernon Gray. He recalled a brochure she designed for an anti-racism campaign that featured a big green dragon representing hate on the cover. The theme was to slay the dragon of hate.

J. Hugh Nichols, who became county executive in 1978, greatly appreciated Goodman's talents.

"She gave me some great ideas," Nichols said from his retirement home in Alabama. "She helped tremendously coming up with ideas to portray county government" to the public.

She also cut her political teeth in Nichols' 1982 re-election campaign, though he had no opponents.

Later, she worked on her own time to help the campaigns of a string of other local Democratic candidates - most of whom lost.

"I kept it all separate," she said, but the extra work "gave me all kinds of great opportunities."


From every new task, she kept learning.

"They were always challenges," Goodman said about the things she was asked to design or market. "That is part of the attraction."

Her co-workers said Goodman routinely juggled multiple projects, ramping up her intensity as deadlines neared.

"The closer the deadline, I think the more creative she gets, " said Beth Hofmocker, who works in Goodman's office.

Kathy Sloan-Beard, the public information office's community relations coordinator and Goodman's chief collaborator, said it is that ability "to sit down, look at a project and find the best way to market that - to present it," that is Goodman's most striking ability.

Her political work continued, and although Goodman's candidate's were not always winners, she never suffered any retribution.


"She was a very good employee. Very loyal," said Republican Charles I. Ecker, who served for two terms as county executive in the 1990s and now is Carroll County school superintendent.

Goodman's final promotion came with the election of James N. Robey, the former county police chief, as county executive in 1998, but that story really began in Daniels, where Goodman and Robey were children.

Goodman's mother had left North Carolina and her family's Cherokee heritage to come to Daniels. As a young child named Victoria Brown, Goodman had a next-door baby sitter named Janet Rohrback. Janet later married Jim Robey, another Daniels resident.

The Robeys lived on the Howard County side of the Patapsco, while the Browns lived across the river in Baltimore County, where Goodman still lives.

"I never could get across that river," except to work and shop, she jokes now. Goodman lives in Catonsville.

Those old connections helped Goodman hit political gold when Robey decided to run for county executive in 1998.


"When I decided to run the first time, I did not know who I could go to for campaign work," Robey recalled. "She said, 'If I can help in any way, I would be happy to.' We sat down and talked one day at lunch, and I found out then what a talented person she was. I had no money to hire formal people or private companies."

Robey, aided by a bitter split among county Republicans, earned an upset victory and named Goodman his communications director.

"She was absolutely essential in getting me elected," Robey said.

And although County Executive Robey considered himself his own chief spokesman, he depended on Goodman to help him.

"She always stayed in the back of the room, and she would be nodding her head. If I went astray, the head would stop bobbing," he said.

Goodman, who has one grown son and a 10-year-old son at home, said she is far from full retirement.


She is relishing spending more time with her younger son, Riley, and husband Tom, and she is planning for her new part-time job as executive director of a county tourism bureau program that could not be better suited to her talents.

Called Blossoms of Hope, it is an continuing project to plant thousands of cherry trees all around the county and publicize the effort.

"I am very excited," she said.

For the record

In a article in Sunday's Howard County Sun about the career of retiring Howard County Communications Director Victoria Goodman, the age of Kevin Enright, her replacement, was incorrect. Enright is 41 years old. The Sun regrets the error.