Globe-trotter Has Taste For Politics

November 25, 1990|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff writer

NEW WINDSOR - Rebecca H. Harman has walked the Great Wall of China and seen Mount Everest and Kilimanjaro, but the sight that gives her the most joy is the downhill drive into her hometown.

Along with trips abroad, Harman, who calls her age irrelevant, has filled her retirement years with community service activities and volunteer work.

With her election 18 months ago as the first woman on the Town Council here, she added yet another set of notes to her crowded appointments calendar.

Running for office hadn't crossed her mind, she said, until James C.

Carlisle, then a mayoral candidate, suggested it.

"We made a deal that I would run for mayor if she ran for the council," said the mayor, 67, who added he has known Harman since she taught his children at New Windsor High School years ago.

Harman said a three-year stint as chairwoman of the town Planning and Zoning Commission gave her a taste for politics. Most of that time, she said, was devoted to the "difficult" task of writing the first zoning ordinances for the town.

"The difficulties arose when we tried to plan for growth and still retain New Windsor's small village beauty," she said. "There was a lot we couldn't foresee, so it should be revised."

With Carlisle's support, Harman submitted her name for the ballot. "Go, go, Rebecca," as she likes to call herself, couldn't fit campaigning into her agenda, though. She already had mapped out a trip to South Africa.

"Before I left, I called about a dozen friends, asking for their support," she said. "I didn't get back until two days before the election."

Her absence from the campaign trail didn't hurt her chances, though.

She, along with Carlisle and R. Kenneth Green, easily won seats, ousting the former mayor and two incumbent councilmen, as 82 percent of the town electorate turned out.

One of Carlisle's first official acts was to appoint the councilwoman to chair the Finance Committee. He said Harman has been "hard at work" ever since.

"Whatever she does, she gives it 100 percent," he added.

Hard work has defined Harman's entire life. Born the youngest of nine children on a Frederick County farm, the former Rebecca Howard said she learned early "to pitch in and get the job done."

By the time Harman entered first grade, in a two-room schoolhouse, her oldest sister, Elizabeth, was her teacher. Following her sister's example, Harman also chose a teaching career.

In 1938, she was a member of the first class to earn a bachelor of science in education from what was then Towson State College, Baltimore County. She accepted a teaching position in Frederick County, where she met and married C. Kenneth Harman in 1943.

While her husband served in the U.S. Army during World War II, she continued her studies at the University of Maryland at College Park. She acquired a master's degree in education and a certification in physical education, a subject she called her "first love."

After the war, the couple settled in Carroll's smallest town, where she accepted a teaching position at New Windsor High School, within walking distance of their home.

Walking was only a small part of her exercise program. In addition to phys ed classes, she coached all the girls sports teams, overseeing competitions in the county circuit. She also taught science.

"Often I would have to run back from the hockey field to the cafeteria to set up a science experiment," she said.

When knee problems forced her to give up gym class and the high school became a middle school, Harman, utilizing the library science courses she had taken at Western Maryland College, took over the school library.

Her husband's terminal illness prompted her retirement from teaching in 1975. After his death a year later, she decided against a return to the classroom, opting instead to fill her days with volunteer activities.

A 1977 appointment to the board of advisers at Carroll Community College provided another channel for her energies, as she worked for the expansion of a new campus. Although that effort became a reality last month at the dedication of the Washington Road facility in Westminster, she doesn't consider her job done.

"With a 42 percent increase in overall enrollment, the board is busily pursuing the second phase of our expansion plans," she said.

With all her obligations, Harman still manages to squeeze in such leisure activities as swimming and biking. And she plans a yearly trip or two, sometimes repeating a previous itinerary.

With fond memories of three safaris and a love of wild animals, she's considering a fourth trip to Africa.

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