Mrs. Johnston

November 08, 2011

It's nearly impossible to adequately put into perspective all of the contributions to Harford County made by Imogene B. Johnston, who died Oct. 26 at the age of 92.

Mrs. Johnston was a major architect both of the county charter and the eventual transition to home rule government in Harford County in the period 1968-74, though undoubtedly she herself would have considered her contributions to be modest ones. In reality, she was the glue that held a lot of things together in those early days of a new government that was birthed with considerable pain and confusion.

Mrs. Johnston served as the secretary to the five-member elected board that wrote the charter. Following voter approval of the charter and home rule, members of the first Harford County Council who were elected in December 1972 appointed Mrs. Johnston as the council's first administrator.

In those days, the position, which was created under the charter, was called Council Secretary, or "secretary with a capital 'S'," as the first council president, the late John O'Neill, was fond of saying. Many of those first council members, all men, frequently opined that 'S' must have stood for Superwoman, as Mrs. Johnston kept their cramped office in the old county building (where the sheriff is today) functioning amid the kind of chaos to be expected when everything is new and pioneering.

The council's nomenclature for tracking legislation, its system for keeping meeting minutes and its first procedural rules were largely crafted by Mrs. Johnston and, 39 years later, those systems remain largely intact because they were that simple and that good.

As competent as Mrs. Johnston was as an administrator, she was equally adept as a politician; she had to be to coax any semblance of order from among the volatile mix of personalities that served on the first two county councils for which she worked.

Though Mrs. Johnston never held an elected office other than a seat on the Republican Central Committee, she was a tireless worker for her party in the days when usually the only times GOP candidates in Harford County won was when the majority Democrats were fighting among themselves. She was among a handful of people who held the local GOP together through the post-Watergrate period and built the foundation on which the party would come to dominate local politics from the early 1990s to the present.

Her obituary published in Friday's edition of The Aegis also noted that Mrs. Johnston managed the campaigns of a half a dozen Harford County Circuit Court judges. She also found time to be an active member of several cultural and community groups. She was named a Harford Living Treasure by the county council in 2001.

Hers was an energetic life well lived, one that, in the true spirit of Harford County, always put public service first.

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