Once upon a time, Prince George's County was known as, let's say, the "ugly brother" of the Washington area. And there were many efforts to spruce him up, including a $60,000 ad campaign in 1976 to persuade people not to call him "P.G."

"P.G. sounds so quick and brisk, like other unappealing two letter symbols -- M.O. for modus operandi or Q.T.," then-County Executive Winfield Kelly said. "Prince George's is a smooth flowing name. Princely and kingly things sound nice. They are pleasant, like our county really is."

Nevertheless, Montgomery and Fairfax counties continued to see themselves as the fairest in the land. Even late bloomer Prince William County was afforded more respect.

Then, in the 1980s, with the wave of an economic wand -- some say by affirmative action godfather and then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry -- the county began a transformation from lower-middle-income white to upper-middle-income black.

And now, as the county's first black chief executive leaves office and another takes over amid galas and a posh inaugural ball, it appears that Prince George's has finally arrived.

During Wayne K. Curry's two terms as county executive, the average price of a new home more than doubled, to $300,000. FedEx Field, home to Washington's professional football team, was built in Landover, and development of National Harbor, the largest construction project in Maryland history, got underway in Oxon Hill.

The Curry administration also leaves a princely surplus of $125 million, causing Curry (D) to boast at a recent farewell gala, "Our economy is the envy of the metropolitan area."

Indeed, Curry was feted that night in a manner befitting the head of a county named for Prince George, second son of King Frederick III of Denmark and Norway and husband to England's Queen Anne.

"I've had no greater friend than Wayne," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D). "During that worst month of October, when so many of us were fearful, frustrated and anxious [because of the sniper attacks], I turned to him for guidance on reassuring the community."

Maryland Lt. Gov.-elect Michael Steele (R), who lives in Mitchellville, lauded Curry as "my favorite Republican," because of the fiscal acumen that the Democrat demonstrated in raising the county's bond rating on Wall Street.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D) said, "Wayne's got game."

For his part, incoming Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) put on an inaugural ball Monday that was as stylish as they come. African American guests were adorned with diamonds and pearls as they gathered to party on land once worked by slaves.

At his swearing-in earlier in the day, Johnson told the audience: "Many of us are the descendants of those brought to this continent against their will. But we have risen beyond the shackles of slavery to a place of freedom, and with our vigor and our spirit, we join with all of our brothers and sisters to create Prince George's County as a place of opportunity, freedom and fairness for all."

And therein lay the pea under the mattress. For of those to whom much has been given, much is required. There can be no resting on one's laurels.

Within a few miles of the county's most opulent mansions, some owned by professional athletes, black youngsters wear expensive sneakers and can barely read the words on a shoe box.

Some residents are at wits' end about the sad state of the county's school system.

"Our school needs a roof," said Karen Franklin, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at Friendly High School in Fort Washington. "We've been lobbying politicians for six years to no avail. If it rains, we can't use the gym. The ceilings in the auditorium and several classrooms leak."

At the swearing-in, Johnson spoke to Franklin's concerns.

"Our children should be educated in real schoolrooms, and our teachers need facilities conducive to learning," he said. "The band-aid approach of the past has to come to an end."

And if it does not, county be warned: Before the last school bell rings, the fairy tale ends, and the prince becomes a pauper.

E-mail: milloyc@washpost.com