Register of wills, full-time student

Scheduling: Mayoral hopeful Mary Conaway insists she was at work every day in Baltimore while earning a master's degree from a Washington seminary.

July 17, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Mayoral candidate Mary W. Conaway is known as a dynamic woman. But Conaway may have pulled off the task that busy people everywhere dream of: seeming to be two places at one time.

Conaway attended a Washington, D.C., seminary for three years as a full-time student while being paid to serve as the city's register of wills.

The 56-year-old West Baltimore woman, who earns $75,000 a year, was first elected to serve in the city court system in 1982. She attended Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington from 1988 to 1991, according to school records.

School officials estimate that about two-thirds of the grueling program is taught during the day.

"It is not possible to do it as only an evening program," said Chip Aldridge, director of recruitment for the seminary. "It's a real hefty master's program. A full-time student can do it in three years."

At a news conference yesterday to kick off a plan to help small businesses on the west side of town, Conaway said she attended classes from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and on weekends, when the city courts were closed.

City courts operate from 8: 30 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m.; the college campus is about an hour from Conaway's courthouse office.

"I went at night," said Conaway."I was at my job every day."

When told of the school administrator's contention that completing the program strictly in the evening is not possible, Conaway replied: "When you're dedicated to God, you can do anything."

A review yesterday of the school's coming fall curriculum shows that 31 of the 48 courses being taught -- 65 percent -- are offered during the day. Four of the seven Master of Divinity courses are being taught in night sessions.

Professor Diedra Hanner Kriewald, who has taught Christian education at the school since 1982, said the seminary does tailor programs for working students.

"She could do most of it at night," said Kriewald, who teaches only at night. "Now, I'm not saying 100 percent, but we have organized our curriculum so that people like Mary could get their degrees."

The master's program requires 90 credits, including field work. The courses are worth one and three credits.

Conaway stood out from her classmates for her authoritative command of theology and her dynamic personality, Aldridge said. Among the courses she took were biblical interpretation, church history and Christian ethics.

"She's just a lovely person, very capable," Aldridge said.

Conaway manages a little-known city court office with a $200 million budget and about 60 employees. She supervises the handling of estates and wills of deceased Baltimore residents, collects inheritance taxes, and serves as clerk to Baltimore's Orphans' Court. She is one of 27 mayoral candidates seeking to succeed departing Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke as the city's 47th mayor.

In addition to her Master of Divinity, Conaway earned a master's degree in education from Coppin State College in 1976. She serves as an ordained United Methodist pastor on weekends at Cecil Memorial United Methodist Church in Annapolis.

The Sun received an anonymous tip that Conaway attended the seminary on city time.

The tip came shortly after Conaway vowed this month to slash several city departments if elected mayor and suggested that some city employees do nothing.

Conaway blamed questions over her degree on mayoral opponents she accused of trying to knock her out of the race.

"People want to get me out," Conaway said. "I am one to be reckoned with."

Conaway stood on the steps of the Brokerage downtown yesterday calling for the city to give three years of free rent to small businesses being displaced by the redevelopment of the west side.

Many of the Brokerage sites, across from the new Port Discovery children's museum, are vacant. The Baltimore Development Corp. recently awarded the redevelopment of the Brokerage to the Cordish Co., which redeveloped the Power Plant.

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