One of the best memories longtime Bowie City Clerk Pamela Fleming will have about her job after retiring Monday will be the work she did to organize more than a dozen city elections.
“You wake up the morning of the election, and you drive through the community and see the signs, and you suddenly realize, you did that,” she said about creating — 14 different times — the framework within which Bowie residents exercise their right to vote.
“It’s quite a thrill,” said Fleming, 74, of Bowie, who has worked for the city for 41 years, the past 24 years as city clerk.
“It’s a feeling I can’t explain,” Fleming said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s all worth it.”
Fleming said she’s way past retirement age and this year being the off year between city elections, it was a good time to retire.
“It’s an unwritten policy amongst clerks to not retire during an election year,” she said.
Succeeding her will be Awilda Hernandez, 45, of Waldorf who previously served as town clerk in Indian Head. Hernandez starts Monday.
Born in England, Fleming and her family moved to the United States after World War II and, in 1963, she moved with husband and baby daughter to modern Bowie, a planned community being developed by William Levitt.
In 1971, she went to work as a secretary for the Bowie recreation department, which along with the rest of city government was housed in the historic Belair Mansion, built during the 18th century.
Fleming recounted letting cats loose in the basement to catch mice that were making trips upstairs to eat the glue on office envelopes.
Within months, she changed jobs to work for the city manager and, in 1978, moved with the rest of her co-workers to Foxhill Elementary School on Kenhill Drive, which had been converted into a city hall.
Fleming remembers spackling and sanding the inside walls and planting shrubs and bulbs outside, as she and her co-workers settled in for what would become their workplace for the next 33 years.
Happily, the new city hall was not far from her house, and she established a routine of going home for lunch from 1 to 2 p.m.
“I’ve been doing it for 40 years, and it’s worked well,” said Fleming, who said co-workers and residents knew when she was available and when she wasn’t.
A punctual person, Fleming appreciates consistency.
“I’m always here at my desk by 8:30,” she said.
In 1988, she moved into the position of city clerk, taking on duties that included keeping track of City Council agendas, minutes and advisory committees as well as ordinances and annexations of properties as the city grew.
She remembers long and often fractious council meetings in the 1980s and 1990s as groups of residents objected to the new subdivisions popping up as Bowie grew to the 55,000 people it has today.
“The meetings would run to 11 p.m. and midnight; now, they’re much shorter,” said Fleming, who was applauded by council members, co-workers and residents at her last council meeting April 16.
New residents also lead to more voters, which meant Fleming had to set up more polling places around town in churches and community centers.
Every two years, she also would hire as many as 40 poll workers and judges, rent voting machines and prepare ballots.
She also was the person who fielded questions from first-time candidates about how, when and what to file.
“I wanted to make sure they understand,” she said. “It’s a misdemeanor when you don’t comply.”
Assistant City Manager John Fitzwater, who has worked for the city for 22 years, said she did the job without skipping a beat.
“Things just got accomplished and accomplished in an efficient and effective way,” he said in an e-mail. “Her managing of the election was a particularly difficult task that Pam handled flawlessly.”
Mayor G. Frederick Robinson agreed, saying Fleming was committed, good at her job and forthright but tactful about expressing her ideas.
“She has the ability to look you in the face and truthfully say there might be a better way to do this,” Robinson said. “She lets you know what she thinks, and she gives you an honest answer.”
Fleming said she will miss her time with her co-workers and her public role as city clerk.
“By the time I reach the office, I’ve said hello to 10 people, and I’m going to miss that,” she said.
But she said her job now will be to see more of her family and friends, spend more time gardening, taking photos and traveling, and also continue, as she has throughout her career, volunteering at city events.
A member of the Bowie-Crofton Soroptimist Club, an international association that works to improve the lives of women and girls, she is working to line up vendors for Bowiefest, a yearly community event now staged at Allen Pond that she first worked on 41 years ago when it was known as Oktoberfest.
Fleming said even though she is retiring, she has no plans to leave Bowie.
“My door and the gate to my garden is always open,” she said.