by Lisa Tome
Patrick Conway started working for Cecil County government as part of President Jimmy Carter's Comprehensive Employment and Training Act which placed college students in jobs.
Although that program collapsed, Conway stayed with the county 37.5 years before retiring on Friday, June 29.
"I majored in education and I ended up here. I never expected to be here, but I stayed. (When hired) I was at the end of my unemployment and my wife was six months pregnant. But I had good people that I learned from in the beginning," he said.
He had worked for Maryland Environmental Services, in the Town of Elkton's water department, as a house parent for Cecil's Department of Social Services, and as a production scheduler for Pirelli Cable before signing on with the county. He's a Cecil native who graduated from Elkton High before heading to Salisbury University.
Conway, 64, was the county's director of Permits and Inspections from 1989 until 2017.
Last year, his title changed to chief of that department. In that role he was responsible for all the building, plumbing, and HVAC inspections as well as implementing codes.
"It was an excellent job. I enjoyed it. All the permits, well 99 percent of them, have had my name on them in some capacity since May of 1981," he said. He was a zoning inspector from 1981-1982, zoning administrator from 1982-88, was both chief of zoning administration and chief of zoning and inspections before becoming assistant director of planning and zoning. He also had stints as risk management chair and was fast track coordinator for 18 years.
It's been an unexpected career path for a family of business owners. Three generations of his family owned and operated the Elkton Shoe Hospital, a repair shop. "All the kids in my family worked in that business," Conway said.
And since Conway has been in the department for so long, he has great insight into the economic impact of permitting.
"Back in the early 80s, we were booming. We were building 600 new single family units a year," he said. "There were a lot of things that killed it - the economy in general. With business, the shopping centers and malls we grew up with are no longer there."
Conway said he worked with and served alongside "really, really good people". Mike Pugh and Barry Belford, Frank Ragan, Bill Manlove, Cliff Buckworth, Nelson Bolender, and Bob Adams. "Harry Hepbron was excellent to work for. And I have to tell Barry Belford now I have time to play golf," he said.
He said his current staff - Bill, Linda, J.R., Jeff, Olivia, Debbie, Rick, Mark, and Joan, are a great team, a top notch staff he had the privilege of directing.
During his tenure, he also saw big changes in county government. The transition from three county commissioners to the five county council members followed by charter government and the leadership role of the county executive. "It used to be it takes two (votes). Then it takes three. Then the county executive," he said.
He has built a lot a memories. He said the July 6, 1991 explosion in Perryville and the after effects of that massive event taught him a great deal. "That was quite a project. Maybe I grew up a little bit with that. We haven't had anything that devastating. We've since had hurricanes and tornados. In the last few years, we've had flooding and rain issues. The building quality has improved over the years, " he said.
The job wasn't without its hazards.
"I've been to houses (to inspect) where there were 45 cats and to a house in North East where I could see the outline where someone died. These are things first responders go to all the time. So you learn to respect that," he said.
Along the way he has been very active both with the county and personally.
He was on the HUD Resources Board for eight years, and a Section 8 hearing officer for 10 years. He has served on the Cecil County School of Technology Trades Foundation Board since 1996 and been chairman of that board for six years. He's been part of the Paramedic's Foundation and Local Emergency Planning Commission.
He also served on numerous committees: space allocation, employee recognition, county fleet policy, sick leave bank, personnel policies and procedures, risk management, and administration building safety committee.
Since 1996 he's been a coach and board member with Cecil County Special Olympics.
He's president of the Arundel Community Association and served on the YMCA Board and was president of that board.
His new job started Monday.
"I'm going to be a house painter. My wife already picked out the colors. That job starts soon," Conway said. Bill Funk will be the acting chief of permits and inspections.