Dignified, astute, persevering; words that describe Mary Arline McGuire who spent 43 years serving Chesterfield County government. Beginning her career as deputy treasurer, Ms. McGuire worked hard to reach chief treasurer and in 1979 broke the glass ceiling by being the first woman elected to a Constitutional office - Treasurer.
Last month she was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award by Chestefield County, honoring her for dedication to her work and the citizens of Chesterfield.
But what pushes a woman to rise through the ranks of a department that saw a rise in population from 40,000 to over 200,000 and a budget of under $1 million to over $330 million?
In the early days the entire county administration was housed in what is now the parks and recreation office. There was no courts and office building, now occupied by the police department and public meeting room, and no five story building or county buildings other than the courthouse and jail. The fairgrounds was only a few hundred feet behind the old courthouse. McGuire was kept busy working with a mobile collections office.
“We would set up in general stores or fire houses and people would bring their tax payment in to us,” McGuire said, during an interview last week. “People were very distrustful of banks because of the ‘29 crash and maybe had their money buried in the back yard. We would be carrying so much money [back to the office] that the police would follow us back and we would put it in the safe.”
The treasurer’s office was small during the 1950s, handling less the $1 million. McGuire said it was a good thing because their adding machines didn’t have numbers over a million. Due to the lack of space, her desk was not much bigger than a student’s desk and she could be responsible for just about everything in the office.
“Everyone did everything, whatever was needed,” she said.
She said when she started work at the county at her job and was being shown the room in which the board of supervisors met, she asked, “Why are the chairs nailed down?” The meetings were not attended by the public in those days. She was told sometimes a supervisor may get a little excited and throw a chair.
Although the offices were cramped and the work daunting, McGuire looks back fondly on the days when the office was small and the push had yet begun.
In the mid 1950s, McGuire said they county had a problem during the building of the then new courts and administration office.
“The contractor went bankrupt,” she said. “But a new contractor was found and we [treasurers office] moved there.”
During the 1970s, Chesterfield became the place to live. By the end of the decade, as many as 500 new residents were moving to the county every month. Then Arline McGuire ran for office.
When the county treasurer George W. Moore retired in 1979 McGuire considered running for office.
“The word I received was ‘our county has never had a woman elected as a constitutional officer,’” McGuire said. “They didn’t believe that the county was ready for one at that time. They didn’t feel I could win an election.”
She ran as an Independent and won 72 percent of the vote.
“After serving as treasurer for three terms of four years each, I never found that gender made a difference,” McGuire said.
As Treasurer of Chesterfield County, McGuire brought the office into the 20th century. She had a state of the art computer system installed in the treasurer’s office that was so cutting edge that treasurers from a number of other jurisdictions visited her office to see the efficiencies the new system brought.
Her office once again outgrew the space allotted to them.
“I had bulldozers pushing me,” she said. “They were the bulldozers of developers building more homes, and everyone who arrived in the county made contact with the treasures department.”
She had a problem. The county administration had asked the voters in a bond referendum for funds to build the five-story office building now called the Lane B. Ramsey Administration Building. But voters turned it down. The administration decided to raise the funding needed out of the general operating budget.
McGuire’s office added an old trash-filled trailer they found abandoned at the fairgrounds. It had no heat and the door cut to access it from the building into it was covered with an army blanket. But they did their part to reduce their funding in the budget for the new building. It was built and stands today as the tallest building in the county complex.
The treasurers office is audited every year and for years the county’s administration has wanted to absorb the treasures office. McGuire believes that should never happen.
“We need checks and balances,” she said.
McGuire retired in 1991.