Kathleen Arlee Petry "Kathy" Mathias, who was Ocean City's town clerk and a major behind-the-scenes figure in the resort city where she had worked for several mayors and city managers, died Monday of breast cancer at her home there.
She was 58.
"Kathy was one of the finest people I've ever known, and I had the pleasure of her working for me when I was mayor and she was my secretary," said Roland "Fish" Powell, who served as Ocean City mayor from 1986 to 1996.
"She was very dedicated and honest and a good-hearted lady," he said. "If anyone came to City Hall for help, she'd do all she could to help them. Naturally, it's a great loss for her family but also for Ocean City."
"If I had to describe Kathy in two words, I say goodness and grace," said her husband of 33 years, state Sen. James N. Mathias Jr., a Democrat, who was Ocean City mayor from 1996 to 2006 and currently represents Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties in the legislature.
Kathleen Arlee Petry, the daughter of a career military officer and a homemaker, was born in Hanover, Pa., and later moved with her family to Hampstead, where she graduated from North Carroll High School in 1971.
She met her future husband when both were students at Catonsville Community College, where she earned an associate's degree.
"I told her in the summer of 1972 that I was going to work in Ocean City at Ponzetti's Pizza on the boardwalk, and I asked her to come with me," recalled Mr. Mathias. "She said, 'Let me think about it,' and then finally agreed to go."
Mrs. Mathias, who had first visited the resort and fell in love with it when she was 10, worked during the next three summers as a waitress at Melvin's Steak House.
The couple decided their future was in Ocean City after their marriage in 1978.
Mrs. Mathias had worked in the field of deaf education at Western Maryland College and then in continuing education at Catonsville Community College. After moving to the Eastern Shore, she worked at Wor-Wic Community College for the dean and college president.
But it was politics that motivated Mrs. Mathias to go into government. For the past 29 years and until two weeks before her death, she worked for Ocean City and became a highly respected and much-loved local figure. She worked for five mayors and three city managers.
She began her career in 1983 working for Tom Barrett, then the city manager, followed by a decade as Mr. Powell's secretary.
In 1989, she was named assistant to the city manager. From 1990 until last year when she was promoted to city clerk after the retirement of longtime clerk Carol Jacobs, she had been assistant to the current city manager, Dennis Dare.
"Kathy worked with me directly hand-in-hand for 20 years. I'd sit and talk with her and bounce off ideas and projects," said Mr. Dare. "I never had to worry about a thing because she was a take-charge person. She was a great lady."
Mr. Dare said his colleague was the public face of government in Ocean City.
"She never had a bad day, and [she] showed respect to all. Some folks have disdain for government officials, but Kathy would go cheek-to-cheek with them helping resolve their issues," he said. "She had the patience of Job."
Mrs. Mathias refused to let a 1997 breast cancer diagnosis interfere with her professional and personal life. The disease eventually went into remission and returned to her bones. It spread to her bone marrow and liver.
"When she had to go to Baltimore for cancer treatments, she'd take along her laptop, and during the long drive, would assemble agendas and take care of other business," Mr. Dare said.
He said Mrs. Mathias did not miss work, even after one of her arduous treatments.
"I knew there were times that Kathy wasn't feeling well but she wouldn't complain. She was totally devoted to the work and not a strictly 9-to-5 person. She put in the hours," he said. "She was totally dedicated to Ocean City."
Mrs. Mathias earned a bachelor's degree in political science in 1998 from Salisbury University, graduating magna cum laude.
During her years working for Ocean City, Mrs. Mathias developed and maintained the Town of Ocean City's Policy and Procedural Manual and served as the first editor of the Ocean City Newsletter.
"She was the first lady of Ocean City," said J. Steven Green, publisher and editor of The Dispatch in Ocean City. "She really cared about people, and that was very obvious."
In an editorial "In Memoriam" piece to be published Friday in The Dispatch, Mr. Green praised Mrs. Mathias' "authenticity."
"Kathy treated everyone the same — she was respectful to all. That's a trait I admire and marveled over the last 15 years or so. I marveled over Kathy's level-headed approach to just about everything," he wrote.
Mrs. Mathias worked hard, her husband said, in the field of cancer awareness for women.
"She was very active with the American Cancer Society and had been past president of the board of the Worcester County chapter," he said.
Mrs. Mathias had also been chair of the Pink Ribbon Classic for Worcester County and had served on the board of the Tri-County Leadership Council for the American Cancer Society.
She had also been very active in Boy Scouting and was a Merit Badge counselor and taught three merit badge courses required for Eagle Scouts.
Mrs. Mathias was nominated by the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce for its Citizen of the Year Award, which will be awarded posthumously next month.
Mrs. Mathias was a communicant of Holy Savior Roman Catholic Church, 1705 Philadelphia Ave., Ocean City, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Friday.
In addition to her husband, Mrs. Mathias is survived by a son, Trevor J. Mathias of Ocean City; a daughter, Lauren A. Mathias of Ocean City; her father, Edward O. Petry of Hanover, Pa.; and a sister, Carole Ann Spring of Westminster.