Late one evening back in 1970, Linda Nalls received a phone call from the mayor of Mount Rainier. One of the City Council members had just resigned and it was the mayor's job to name a replacement.

The mayor asked Nalls if she would take the job. He held her in high esteem because as president of the Mount Rainier Civic Association she had stirred up a great deal of interest in the campaign to revitalize the 60-year-old town.

"Oh, my goodness, do you think I'm qualified," asked Nalls, who had never considered running for or holding public office. "I don't know if I am the right person. Do you really think I could handle it?"

"I wouldn't have called you if I didn't think you could handle the job," the mayor responded.

On this note, Nalls began her tenure on the City Council. When the mayor decided to retire in 1977, Nalls ran for and won the seat. A nurse ran for and won the seat. A nurse before she entered politics, Nalls took a substantial pay cut when she became mayor -- her salary plummeted from $14,000 to $2,400 a year.

Now she has become the number one booster of a town that has a decaying downtown stretched along Rhode Island Avenue just across the District line and a population with half its members over 60 years old.

"If I could devote 24 hours a day to this job, I would have something to do every minute of the day," said Nalls, who sometimes gets calls at home at 3 in the morning from irate citizens.

Rather than the police or their council members, Mount Rainier citizens call Nalls about stray dogs, dying elm trees, broken traffic lights and dogs that howl and keep neighborhoods up all night.

"I guess they call me because they elected me," said Nalls. "That's the way it is in a small town." (Mount Rainier has a population of about 10,000.)

Nalls, a good-humored woman who admits to being "around 50" but refuses to tell her exact age.

Her dedication to her job has attracted widespread attention. The Prince George's Municipal League elected her president last year and the Maryland Municipal League named her "Outstanding Municipal Official of the Year" at its convention this month.

She says her family has adapted well to her political work, even though her husband "is totally disgusted by politics and politicians." Their three children, ages 22, 28 and 29, now have their own homes and have been "very supportive."

The all-male council has fallen into line.

"I don't think they think of me as a woman anymore," said Nalls, letting out a loud laugh and patting her desk. "I think they know I can do the job, and to them, that is what counts."