Twelve years ago, a long-haired, bearded Democrat picked up the reins of government in Sykesville -- "shy but thrilled" that constituents trusted him to lead the town.
More than 300 council meetings later, a self-assured Lloyd R. Helt Jr. credits "a remarkable string of good health" and a sense of dedication for his near-perfect attendance record through three mayoral terms.
During those meetings, Mr. Helt worked on myriad problems and crises to help Sykesville prosper while keeping its small town flavor. Under his administration, the town built a storm drain system, preserved its train station, created a Historic Commission and adopted the Small Town Planning Guidelines.
Still bearded and now slightly gray, Mr. Helt is leaving the Town House in the hands of his successor, Kenneth W. Clark, who was sworn in Thursday.
Officially the former mayor, Mr. Helt said he will have difficulty turning his thoughts away from Sykesville on the second and fourth Mondays of the month.
"It's a real habit for me," he said. "In all my time as mayor, I only missed four meetings and one of those was for a honeymoon."
That marriage three years ago is part of the reason Mr. Helt resigned as mayor. He and his wife, Annapolis Alderman Ruth Gray, are both leaving politics -- at least temporarily -- and moving to Westminster.
"We both have big egos and neither one wanted to be in the other's shadow," he said. "The home in Westminster felt just right to both of us."
He said Mr. Clark will be just right for Sykesville, too. A record 310 voters turned out May 4 and elected Councilman Clark by a 47-vote margin over his opponent, Maxine Wooleyhand.
"How pleased I am the voters elected Ken Clark as mayor," said Mr. Helt. "It made it possible for me to leave the town government."
Mr. Helt, who remembers one election when only 99 people voted, said town residents are taking a more active role in their government and attending municipal meetings.
"People are interested and know we are here," he said. "I am excited by that prospect."
A few key items may be generating that interest, he said. Residents are concerned with proposed road changes and the town's growing pains.
"That is how I got started," he said. "You get involved in an issue and speak up. That's what's great about small towns."
Eventually, he said, people listen and "give you a vote of confidence." That enthusiasm is what drew him into politics, he said.
"I saw opportunities the town should take, and I had the capabilities," he said. "I laid the foundation. The town must have agreed --they voted me into the job three times."
Although he is moving to Westminster in August, Mr. Helt will keep his law office in Sykesville and plans to remain involved with the town he has called home since 1977. "My law practice here is part of what I am," he said.
Mr. Clark has asked him to be the council's liaison to the business community.
Mr. Helt said, "I would like to see us work with business to see how we can further develop downtown and bring people here. We are ready, and the right business can help us take off."
Mr. Helt said he tries to "remain open and available and willing to take risks."
One of those risks helped him to build his law practice in a storefront office on Main Street, he said. Nearly 10 years ago, a local businessman interrupted the mayor's morning jog, with "get in the car. I have something to show you." Before long, the abandoned building became Mr. Helt's home and office.
He has no specific plans for a future in politics, but he doesn't rule out anything. At the county commissioners' request, he is serving as chairman of the Waste to Energy Commission.
He calls himself a "liberal Democrat" who might have difficulty running for a countywide office. His one defeat at the polls came in 1986 with an unsuccessful campaign for the state House of Delegates.
Politics has helped him grow as a person, he said.
"I enjoy government, and I like helping people find solutions to problems," he said. "I even enjoy the harrowing process of striving for consensus."
For now, Mr. Helt is looking forward to living under one roof with his family -- no more weekend commuting to Annapolis to see his wife.
"We will be unpacking our bags, finding a church and getting involved in volunteer organizations," he said. "You get involved to make the world a better place."
That sense of involvement guides his "one-person-matters" philosophy.