A Tribute to a Leader

"One fantastic lady." "The elder statesman of Prince George's County." "An indomitable spirit." "The one with the key to everyone's heart."

More than 100 people packed a reception room at the Princess Royale Hotel on the beach in Ocean City during last week's Maryland Municipal League Convention to heap such words of praise on Mary K. Prangley, who was celebrating both her 80th birthday and retirement from 22 years of municipal government service.

Prangley was surrounded by the family, friends and political associates she credited for her rise from "a little, shy girl from Baltimore" to the first female mayor of Hyattsville. Along the way, she also served as a City Council member in Hyattsville and as president of the Maryland Municipal League.

Prangley, elected mayor of Hyattsville in 1996, decided this year that she would not seek another four-year term. But as she and everyone else agreed, there will be no stopping her special style of community service.

"Retirement in this case is probably a misnomer," said County Council member Audrey E. Scott (R-Bowie). "She's been my good friend for many years, and I know she will be as involved as ever."

The Prangley name has grown to be synonymous with local politics in Prince George's. The retiree's late husband, Robert V. Prangley, who died last year at age 80, was president of the Hyattsville City Council in the 1970s. He also headed the Citizens Advisory and Redevelopment committees, the Cable Television Commission, the Horticultural Society and the Preservation Association, among many other civic groups.

Robert was elected to the first of two four-year terms on the Hyattsville council in 1969. His wife succeeded him on the council in 1977.

The couple had seven children. Prangley now has 17 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren--and they were all at the party, held in Ocean City so that Prangley's municipal league associates from all over the state could be there.

Over a nearly two-foot-long birthday cake, fruit, vegetables, turkey, ham, fish and chicken, Mary Prangley floated among the crowd, stopping only to take pictures and blow out her candles.

"It's been a glorious time all these years," she said. "I tell you, it's going to be a lot of tears because I'm going to miss these folks so much."

First on her list of priorities: "I'm going to take a little rest and enjoy the beach."

Robert W. Armentrout, who was elected mayor of Hyattsville in May, was among the first to rush toward Prangley after she blew out her candles, forming what became a long, snaking receiving line.

"She's been good for Hyattsville, given it spirit . . . a tough act to follow," Armentrout said.

Well-wishers included Mount Rainier Mayor Fred J. Sissine, Capitol Heights Town Council member Amizi L. Springs, Bladensburg Town Administrator Roylene M. Roberts and Riverdale Park Police Chief Terry Evans, among a host of others.

"Mary and her husband--they've done so much to contribute," Riverdale Park Mayor Ann M. Ferguson said. "They're really exemplars of community spirit. . . . Mary really deserves this kind of acknowledgment."

On that point, all the politicians, all the constituents and all the friends and family agreed.

-- Susan Saulny


A Police Chief First

Alice Holmes has had a career of firsts.

She was the first woman to be named a sergeant in the 250-member Portsmouth, Va., Police Department in 1987. Four years later, she became the first woman to attain the rank of lieutenant. Then, in 1994, she was named the department's first woman captain.

Last month, she became chief of the Mount Rainier Police Department--the first time a woman has headed that organization.

Holmes, 46, said she had hoped to work in the Washington metropolitan area.

"Coming to Mount Rainier offered the opportunity to take everything I've learned and worked with in my career and bring it somewhere else to see what I can accomplish," Holmes said. "I think the approach I'm going to use is working with the community to solve problems. It's important to do that, because police can't do it alone."

Holmes was the top choice of more than 60 police officials who applied for the post. A selection committee, including 12 citizens, screened and interviewed applicants. The department was in need of a chief to replace former Chief John Thompson, who resigned in January after he was named assistant sheriff of the Prince George's County sheriff's department.

Holmes's credentials include extensive work in community policing, which Mount Rainier officials said is a key factor in the police department's crime prevention efforts. The department has 14 officers and operates on a $940,000 annual budget. The city, along with other jurisdictions on the border of the District, is plagued with drug problems and occasional cross-border violence.

Mount Rainier, which was incorporated in 1910, is a community of 8,500 people bordered by Eastern Avenue, Queen's Chapel Road, 37th Street and the train tracks. The city includes 1.7 square miles and has about 1,100 single-family homes, many of them small, frame houses, and three large apartment complexes. There is a business district centered at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue and 34th Street.

Holmes, who has been married for 28 years and has two grown sons, said her love of flying drew her to a career in law enforcement. "Several years ago, we had a helicopter unit and I was in the civil air patrol and I did some helicopter ride-alongs, and I was hooked," she said.

Her law enforcement experience includes stints in internal affairs, training and supervising the Portsmouth Police Department's community policing program.

Holmes said she was attracted to Mount Rainier because of its similarities to Portsmouth, which include a diverse, astute and active citizenry.

"Even though Mount Rainier is much smaller, the problems were so similar to the ones [in Portsmouth] that I could really relate. I will try to bring solutions to problems in Mount Rainier based on things we've done in Portsmouth."

-- Avis Thomas Lester

If you have an item for Prince George's Towns, please let us know. Susan Saulny coordinates the municipal coverage. She can be reached at 301-952-2036; fax to 301-952-1397; e-mail to; or write to Prince George's Towns, Prince George's Extra, The Washington Post, 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772.

CAPTION: Former Hyattsville mayor and Maryland Municipal League president Mary K. Prangley gets a hug from Ron Young at a convention party to celebrate her 80th birthday.

CAPTION: Alice Holmes was named Mount Rainier police chief --the first woman to head the department. "I think the approach I'm going to use is working with the community to solve problems," she said.