Veronica L. 'Roni' Chenowith

Harford County councilwoman 'epitomized the definition of the politician who is a public servant'

March 25, 2009|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,

Soon after Harford County Councilwoman Veronica L. "Roni" Chenowith was diagnosed with leukemia in 2006, she waged a vigorous campaign for re-election and won a fourth term.

"You need continuity," she said in explaining her rationale for wanting to remain on the council. "You need experience and knowledge to make good decisions."

In the past few months, when she relied on portable oxygen and a walker, she insisted on attending weekly council meetings. Joe Chenowith Sr., her husband of 48 years, drove her to the sessions.

Mrs. Chenowith died Tuesday at her Fallston home of complications from cancer and pulmonary disease. She was 70.

"She inspired us all with her perseverance and inner strength," said council President Billy Boniface.

Her council colleagues recalled her strong sense of community service, dedication to youth and the elderly, and no-nonsense attitude.

"As far as constituent service, she was unmatched," Mr. Boniface said. "No request was too small. She would take on a cause and not take no for an answer."

As the longest-serving legislator on the seven-member council, Mrs. Chenowith, a Republican, often provided historical perspective.

"She brought to us a wisdom that comes with maturity and the experience every council needs," Councilman James V. McMahan said. "We always knew where that lady stood on the issues."

Democratic Councilman Dion Guthrie, who sat next to Mrs. Chenowith at the council table, said, "Sometimes, she would kiddingly poke me with her cane if I said something she didn't like. We were of different parties, but there was not a lot of partisanship. We both wanted the best for our districts."

In November, despite failing health and a chilling rain, she donned a hard hat and participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for a $6.8 million activity center in Fallston, a project she had pushed for years. She and her husband had coached teams, managed the concession stand and helped maintain fields for the Fallston Recreation Council for more than three decades, long after their sons had outgrown the youth programs.

"It was all about creating a greater sense of community," she said at the groundbreaking, adding that she hoped to be among the seniors participating in the center's programs.

In a conversation with Mr. Boniface last week, she elicited a promise that the center, which is to be named in her honor, will be completed by next year.

Mr. Guthrie also spoke recently with his colleague. "She thanked me for my service, and I thanked her for fighting every step of the way," he said. "I told her that I always thought of her as the Energizer Bunny."

Veronica L. Stoney grew up in Parkville, graduated from Parkville High School and studied nursing at St. Joseph Hospital. After their 1960 marriage, the Chenowiths lived above the doctor's office where she worked. They moved to Fallston in 1968 and started a home construction business.

As a founding member of Harford United Charities, Mrs. Chenowith helped raise nearly $3.25 million for the organization, said Jamie Costello, a family friend. She emceed a fundraiser last month that donated $100,000 to Harford Hospice, he said.

"Roni epitomized the definition of the politician who is a public servant," said Harford County Executive David R. Craig. "There was no hidden agenda. Roni stood for our seniors, our veterans and, above all, our youths. She was always the voice of reason on the council - a voice that was assertive but compassionate."

Mr. Craig said he has ordered Harford County flags flown at half-staff in her memory.

The family will receive friends from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, where funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

In addition to her husband, survivors include a son, Joe Chenowith Jr. of Bel Air, and a brother, Clement Stoney of Fallston. Another son, Jeffrey Chenowith, died in 1994.

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