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Irvin-Craig commits herself to serving through politics

March 27, 2005|By WANDA WILLIAMS

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Editor's note: The Washington County Commission for Women is trying to document the county's women who were pioneers in their career fields. In honor of Women's History Month, The Herald-Mail is presenting, each Sunday in March, a sample of women who the commission is considering as "firsts" for a book. This is the last in a four-part series.




In the sixth grade, Linda Irvin-Craig appeared before the Washington County Commissioners to advocate for the closure of a small two-room school building she was attending in Big Pool.

"The roof leaked and when it rained, the water would come down and burst the light bulbs," Irvin-Craig said during an interview from her office in Frederick, Md.

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It was the mid-1950s, and while she didn't realize it, that appearance marked the beginning of Irvin-Craig's journey to a career in public service.

In 1982, she was elected to the Washington County School Board.

Four years later, she was the first woman elected to serve on the Washington County Board of Commissioners. She served two consecutive terms with the commission, from 1986 to 1994.

Irvin-Craig wasn't the first women to serve on the commission. Sarah Dwyer served on the commission for a few months after being appointed to fill the unexpired term of her husband, William Dwyer, who died in 1978.

Prior to both elections, Irvin-Craig wasn't a newcomer to the world of politics or to the Washington County community. Born in Hagerstown, Irvin-Craig grew up to become a mother and wife dedicated to improving public education. When her children were young, the mother of two ran her family's business, the former Irvin Photographers, and was an active member of the Washington County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations for several years before she decided to run for a spot on the county's board of education.

Taking a closer look at her past, Irvin-Craig said it was no surprise that she would throw her hat into the political ring.

"My interest in politics was fostered by my dad and my mom," Irvin-Craig said. "My dad sat and observed and my mom was an activist. She'd pick up the phone and call and complain."

As a former school board member, Irvin-Craig brought a greater sensitivity to the needs of public education and helped fellow commissioners understand their role in meeting those needs, especially around issues involving funding, she said.

"They (commissioners) always felt that the school board was asking for the moon and they couldn't afford it," she said, referring to budget disputes.

During Irvin-Craig's time in office, Hagerstown Regional Airport was built. She also served on the county's task force for homelessness, a cause close to her heart, she said.

"At the time, federal budget cuts resulted in the release of thousands of mental patients, who ended up on the streets in communities around the country," Irvin-Craig said. "And several of those people ended up on the streets of Hagerstown."

Many of the people associated with the task force would go on to organize REACH (Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless) and the local Habitat for Humanity of Washington County, she said.

A longtime advocate for affordable and fair housing, she currently is working as a funds development officer with the Interfaith Housing Alliance Inc. in Frederick.

Although she doesn't hold an elected office today, she's committed to "passing the baton on to women who come behind her."

For the last decade, Irvin-Craig has been an active member of a group called Women at the Table. Formed by Sharon Leatherman and Judy Lyons Wolf, the organization was created to mentor and assist women interested in running for office and to support the appointment of women to local boards and commissions, she said,

Women tend to bring a different perspective to the table "that often includes a concern about how policy decisions will impact families," she said.

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