Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah has been thinking a lot about the well-known Bible verse about the various stages of life:
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die . . . . A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance."
Now, Lawlah says, "It's the season to be Granny."
She realized the time had come to end her tenure in the state Senate when her 8-year-old grandson, Jay, called and invited her to Grandparents' Day this year at school. She couldn't make it because of a legislative meeting in Annapolis.
Lawlah, 67, has gone from wife and mother to teacher and administrator to Democrat activist and lawmaker over the past 46 years.
And she has enjoyed every minute, she said.
Lawlah talks about her 20 years in the General Assembly with a fondness that not all people can express about their work life. But now she plans to relish being retired and being "Granny" to her six grandchildren.
But just as when she decided to stop teaching, she said, now is the time to end her career as a legislator.
Aside from her grandson's invitation, there were two other issues that sealed her decision.
First, she says, she recognized she wasn't getting any younger.
"There comes a time when you look in the mirror, and you say it's time to pass the baton," she said. "Even athletes need to know when they need to retire."
And just mentioning the word athlete inspires Lawlah to talk of one of her favorites, Tiger Woods, and how he inspired her to take up golf.
"This guy is phenomenal," she said. "You know there are a lot of good golfers coming out of the high school in my area."
Without missing a beat, Lawlah returns to discussing her reasons for retiring. She can leave office now, she said, because she's pretty much done everything she set out to do. "I would love to see rail across the [Woodrow Wilson] Bridge, but that is the only thing that I can say that I sought that hasn't happened," she said.
With a strong South Carolina inflection, Lawlah rattles off a list of her accomplishments over the years: securing the Metrorail Green Line to Branch Avenue, procuring funding for the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge and constructing Oxon Hill High School.
The younger of two children, Lawlah, and her sister, Gene, grew up in the "great metropolis" of Newberry, S.C., population 8,000. Her mother was a math teacher; her father was a technical engineer for a bank building.
After graduation, there was no question that the sisters would head to college. Lawlah went to Hampton Institute (now University) in Virginia, where she earned a bachelor's degree in social studies, and Gene went to Spelman College. Lawlah studied journalism at Hampton and says she probably would have gone into journalism if she had not instead decided on becoming a teacher. For years, she helped students at Terrell Junior High School in the District put out their student newspaper. In 1970, Lawlah received a master's degree in English and administration from Trinity College.
"When I came along, education was your only way out, or you were going to be in a white person's kitchen," Lawlah said.
It was at Hampton that Lawlah met her husband, Jack, whose family had moved to the District in the 1940s from Chicago. Jack's father came to the area to take a job as dean of Howard University's College of Medicine.
"He came to Newberry and proposed," Lawlah said. "I followed him here and married him here."
The two initially settled in LeDroit Park, near Howard, in the District.
But that changed when Lawlah's mother came up for a visit. "She asked where was the basketball court, where was the space to play horseshoes," Lawlah said.
After all, Lawlah had those resources as a child. Her father built a regulation-size basketball court and a playground on their own farmland because she and her sister couldn't play at local segregated playgrounds.
"We had two cornfields, and he built us a regulation basketball court, not just a basketball court, but a regulation basketball court," she said.
Her dad was particularly worried that his grandchildren didn't have space to have a dog. Bottom line, her parents thought the city was not safe, and it was no place to raise children.
That's when the Lawlahs -- like many black professionals after the 1968 race riots in Washington -- began looking for a house in the suburbs. They settled in Hillcrest Heights in 1972, where they raised their three children and still live.
Lawlah became interested in politics when she realized that she and her husband bought a house in a congressional district that was represented by a Republican.
She began working with elected officials and the local NAACP to further integrate the county schools. Then she got involved with the Prince George's County Women's Democratic Club. It was her entree into the world of politics, allowing her to meet U.S. Rep. Gladys Spellman, Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel and then-state Sen. Steny H. Hoyer.
"I loved it," she said. "I got a taste of it, and I loved it." In 1982, Lawlah was elected to the county Democratic State Central Committee. Four years later, Lawlah made a successful run for state delegate. And in 1990, Lawlah became the first woman elected to represent Prince George's County in the Senate.
Longtime state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Lawlah was an effective senator and leaves an indelible impression on the legislature.
"I'm going to miss her very much," Miller said. "Sometimes she was for me, and sometimes she was against me. What I loved about her was her independence. When she was for you, you could not have a stronger ally."
That's why, Miller said, Lawlah was one of those lawmakers you "tried to always get on your side."
During her time in the Senate, Lawlah, to the dismay of her Democratic colleagues, built a good relationship with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich (R). The two had made contact many years before, on Capitol Hill. He was in Congress. She was working as a federal liaison officer for Bowie State University, a position she still holds.
"I went over to him and said, 'I need to talk to you about Bowie State,' " Lawlah said. The two have been on friendly terms ever since, she said.
She said her relationship with Ehrlich was good for her district. Some Democrats saw it as a slight against the party.
"I'm a yellow dog Democrat, believe me," Lawlah says to any criticism.
Lawlah is proud of her Democratic roots, representing Prince George's County and her place in history in the state government, including serving on the Budget and Taxation committee.
And though she may have moved out of her Senate office in Annapolis, Lawlah said she is hoping to end up back at the Statehouse in some fashion as part of Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley's administration.
Three years ago, Lawlah published a book about notable women who have served in the state legislature. Del. Pauline H. Menes (D-Prince George's), who is retiring this year after a 40-year career, leads the book. Sen. Verda Freeman Welcome, who was the first African American female member of the Maryland House of Delegates, in 1959, and the first African American female state senator in the nation, in 1963, plays a major role in the book.
Sometimes, Lawlah says, she wishes that her grandparents could be here with her to share in the advances that African Americans have made.
"If my grandparents could see how much impact, what has happened in 50 years, they would be astounded," Lawlah said.