For a woman who spends about 80 hours a week working, Elizabeth Scull looks remarkably rested.
She speaks softly, with a lilt that pronounces "about" as "aboat." She wears pastel clothes, gardens on the weekends and boasts about her grandchildren.
But she also has the perseverance of a boxer who keeps on slugging.
As a Montgomery County Council member for the past 10 years, Scull has worked on public health issues, for the preservation of existing farm land and on a variety of other social concerns.
She is best known, however, for her consistent support for construction of low- and moderate-income housing throughout the county.
Last week Scull scored a victory for that cause. In a piece of shrewd horse-trading, she swapped her vote for approval of the county's proposed purchase of the $1.1 million Potomac Horse Center in exchange for a commitment to build 48 units of moderate-income housing on the property. Her motion carried unanimously.
"It seemed that the subdivisions were spreading in the 1960s," Scull said, explaining how she came to her views on housing. "They were pushing out blacks in what were once isolated rural communities. I was on the Human Relations Commission, when I started hearing about this, and it touched me. Plus -- and this is important -- my husband was also very involved in housing issues at the time."
David Scull, a civic activist and council member until his death in 1968, helped establish a countywide open housing policy that had enforcement powers behind it.
"I feel I'm trying to carry on my husband's work," she said. "My election (in 1970) was a special personal victory for me."
Two years earlier, she had unsuccessfully sought appointment to the vacant council seat created by her husband's death.
During the 1960s she served on the Human Relations Commission and the Housing Authority (now the Housing Opportunity Commission), where she was concerned with a nondiscriminatory housing policy.
Of her role on the county council, she said, "I guess I see myself as an initiator of ideas, or as an advocate."
But not everyone agrees with her stands on the issues, "Betty Scull gives the impression sometimes that she wants to ram things down your throat," said one civic activist who feels that Scull wants to grant rental subsidies to many people who don't need them. "That's a terrible way to do business."
Other critics attack her family connections and rather substantial financial holdings.
"I was Elizabeth Lee," she said slowly. "That has meant that people have made assumptions all my life that I'm part of one big family political machine."
The family name Lee has dotted Maryland and Virginia history for more than two centuries. Scull is distantly related to just about every prominent Lee including both Robert E. Lee and Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee. Her grandfather Blair Lee was a U.S. Senator. Her father, E. Brooke Lee, now is a cattle breeder in Damascus, but was the powerful chairman of the county's Democratic Party for 30 years. Blair Lee III, Scull's only brother, has served in a number of state and local posts, including as acting governor.
The Lee family holds extensive property, mostly in Montgomery, but also in Frederick and Howard Counties.
The problem with the theory of a family machine, according to Scull, is that its members often vote against one another.
"I've been a strong advocate of planning, which sometimes works to the disadvantage of the developers and the landowners," said Scull. "Let's just say that sometimes I've voted contrary to what other members of my family might prefer.
"They think I'm a hopelss case," she added, laughing. "We're friends, but there are things on which we fundamentally disagree."
Elizabeth Lee grew up on a large farm in what is now downtown Silver Spring.
"She was raised surrounded by government talk," said Scull's son David, who represents the county's 18th district in the Maryland House of Delegates. "Public service was the activity and meaning of life."
Scull also has a daughter, Betsy Oelhaf, who now lives in Pennsylvania, and three grandchildren.
"I'm a council member all the time," laughed Scull. "But on weekends I turn into a homebody, gardener and grandmother."
Most people, even her opponents, agree that her dedication to her job is boundless. "She's amazing," said Dorothy Cockrell, who has been Scull's assistant for the past three years. "I might be tired at the end of a day, but she's always ready for action. I guess I still have her up on a pedestal."
"I love the woman dearly," said Peg McRory, the council's housing consultant and a former Scull aide. "But she wore me out. I couldn't keep up with her."
Scull recently broke her right elbow and spent most of the past month relying only on her left hand.
Despite the inconvenience, she says that the experience was not a total waste. She noted in "Council Comments," a weekly column that council members take turns writing, that she learned a little about the everyday obstacles that the physically handicapped face.