The flower vases were empty and waiting to be packed. The boxes labeled "Krahnke" were stacked in the hallway. And in a room next to office No. 614, an intern was emptying loose-leaf binders into the trash.
They were the trappings of political life, emblems of battles won and lost, of points argued and meals missed, symbols of the work and reward of nine years of public service.
It was, indeed, the end of all that yesterday for Betty Ann Krahnke, the Republican Montgomery County Council member whose 30-year civic career has been cut short by Lou Gehrig's disease.
Gray and rainy though the weather was, Montgomery County bade a celebratory farewell on her last day. Krahnke was toasted and roasted by her council colleagues, received yellow roses and a kiss from County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), and was serenaded by the council's staff.
She was praised as a hero for her political work, and for her two-year struggle with the terminal disease that is officially called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and takes its nickname from the baseball great it claimed in 1941.
She saw the county dedicate a new domestic-abuse center named in her honor and, then, watching from her wheelchair and speaking through a computerized voice synthesizer, she thanked everyone and said she still hoped for a miracle.
Krahnke looked at times pleased, sad, weary and preoccupied. She hates to hear the word "last," her husband, Wilson, had said earlier. It makes her cry.
"She will not go gently into that good night," said former campaign manager Donna Barron.
Krahnke, 57, who has been in office since Dec. 3, 1990, first noticed the symptoms of her illness, whose cause is unknown, in the spring of 1998.
The disease was diagnosed that July and she went public with the news in August.
ALS, which destroys the motor neurons that carry messages from the brain to the muscles, gradually paralyzes almost the entire body but leaves the intellect and senses intact. It usually runs its course in three to five years.
Despite her prognosis, Krahnke decided to continue her political life, run for reelection--which she did successfully in November 1998--and share her struggle publicly in the hope she might help someone else.
She had wanted to serve out her current four-year term, but the disease advanced rapidly and she decided to step down. A special election is scheduled for today to fill her seat.
Krahnke, who is now extensively paralyzed, cannot speak and uses a feeding tube, was clad yesterday in a peach blazer, dark print skirt and purple blouse. She acknowledged admirers with a smile or nod.
She entered the living room of her Chevy Chase home about 8:45 a.m. via an elevator installed to help her get up and down from the second floor. From home, she traveled to the domestic abuse center, accompanied by her husband, daughters Cathy Anderson, 32, Carolyn Schugar, 34, and Peggy Enright, 27, their husbands and her grandson, Richard Schugar, 21 months.
"It has been said that heroes are people who do extraordinary things at extraordinary times," Council President Michael L. Subin told a standing-room-only crowd at the center's auditorium that included the county's top officials. "Sometimes they do it quietly, out of the watchful eyes of others; sometimes not."
"As public servants we wonder if we will make a difference," Subin said. "Today, Betty Ann proved that you can make a difference. Today, we dedicate the Betty Ann Krahnke Center for domestic violence, the result of your years of effort to ensure that the victims of domestic violence are provided a safe harbor."
In a speech she had written over the weekend, Krahnke spoke via her computer, which "recited" the address in synthesized voice. "To be associated with this fine effort is truly an honor," she told the audience. "I appreciate this gesture deeply."
Later, she added to reporters: "I could think of no finer way to be remembered than by this center, which will be a place of comfort for women and children in crises."
"To know that victims of domestic violence will have a safe haven in a time of need brings me a great sense of accomplishment and joy," she said.
Krahnke returned to her Rockville office, where the documents, records and news clippings of almost a decade were being boxed and, in some cases, discarded.
Aides said it felt strange to throw anything away. "You hesitate," said her longtime council assistant Joy Barrow. "You know you have to get rid of it, but there's this other part of your mind that's saying that, 'Betty Ann is going to ask for that.' "
"Closed," Barrow said, had an uncomfortable finality. "As much as you know it's evident, you still don't want to go there. But tomorrow, it's someone else's office."
To a standing ovation, Krahnke was then wheeled into the large, third-floor council hearing room, where she had worked so often over the last nine years.
Colleagues past and present joked and reminisced. Fellow Republican council member and old friend Nancy Dacek, who was elected with Krahnke in 1990, joked about the day Krahnke gleefully said she had been appointed to the county Planning Board.
"What's the Planning Board?" Dacek said she wondered, "and why would anybody want to be on it?"
Members of the council staff then sang Krahnke a humorous version of "My Favorite Things." She was presented with a county flag and cried when council member Marilyn Praisner read a proclamation describing her as a "shining example to us all."
Krahnke, through her computer, summed up her political life, thanked her family and friends and closed with the bittersweet promise: "If the miracle we all hope for comes . . . I will be back."