In just a year, Karen E. Morgan, the first full-time law librarian in the county courthouse, managed to bring order out of chaos, sorting through piles of legal materials, replacing missing volumes, creating a check-out system and generally setting things straight.
Colleagues and friends were stunned last week on learning that Morgan, 45, had been found unconscious at work Tuesday after suffering a massive stroke. She died Thursday evening at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center at University Hospital in Baltimore without ever regaining consciousness.
Judges, attorneys, law clerks and others who knew her as the energetic, helpful law librarian were visibly shaken by the news.
"This is a true tragedy," said Administrative Judge J. Thomas Nissel, Morgan's supervisor. "She was such a delightful person.
"She was the very best of librarians," he added. "She brought that library up from the 18th century to the 20th century."
Nissel and other courthouse workers who knew Morgan said she was friendly with everyone and always tried to be helpful.
"She was always outgoing, pleasant to everyone, and always went out of her way to help everyone who came into the library," said law clerk Tracy A. Gilmore.
"We were absolutely shocked by this," said Anne M. Herman, Judge Robert F. Fischer's secretary. "She really was a wonderful person."
Morgan, who was born and raised in Lenoir, N.C., lived in Ellicott City with her husband, John, and 7-year-old son, Jonathan.
Before taking the job in Howard County last year, Morgan worked at the Thurgood Marshall Law Library at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.
She also worked in public libraries in Tennessee and Virginia before moving to Maryland 17 years ago.
She received a degree in history from Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., and a paralegal certificate from the continuing education program at the University of Maryland, College Park.
She decided to become a librarian years ago because she liked "the contact with people who want to improve themselves," she said.
When she took the job, she knew she had her work cut out for her. On the day she arrived, boxes and stacks of papers were piled throughout the four floors that serve as the law library in the oldest part of the courthouse.
Her first priority was replacing law volumes and other reference materials that had been "permanently borrowed," misplaced or lost through the years, leaving the library virtually unusable for legal research.
In a year, she managed to turn the library into a facility where attorneys and clerks could do legal research, her colleagues said.
But her plans were far from complete.
Law clerks who work in small offices within the library said she spoke of many other improvements she wanted to make, including upgrading the collection and purchasing new furniture.
Nissel said she would be sorely missed and hard to replace. "She did a tremendous job," he said. "People are very broken up about this."
Calling hours will be from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. today at the Harry H. Witzke Funeral Home on Columbia Road. A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday at the funeral home.
In addition to her husband and son, Morgan is survived by her mother, Annie Estes, of Collettsville, N.C.; and a sister, Rebecca Coffey, of Greensboro, N.C.