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They spend most days serving the public from behind desks in the Charles County Courthouse. On Friday, longtime court employees Sharon Key and Rene Cory were honored for their years of service and dedication when they were presented with the Liberty Bell Award.

The awards were presented to Key and Cory as a part of the 2013 Law Day celebration, an annual event hosted by the Charles County Bar Association. Prior to the awards portion of the ceremony, Associate District Judge Kenneth A. Talley reflected on the significance of the day’s theme, “Realizing the Dream: Equality for All.”

“The theme today is especially poignant for me. One of the first things I thought about was my personal dream of becoming a judge,” Talley said, adding that his dream was inspired partly by the support he had from his parents and partly by 1970s television show “Good Times,” which featured a character who, like Talley, was a young black man who wanted to be a judge. “I think that my dream ... wouldn’t mean anything if I didn’t use my enthusiasm to help others.”

While Talley noted that there has been significant progress in the 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the 150 years following the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, both of which came to pass this year, there is still much to be done.

“Charles County has a black judge, a black state’s attorney, and the United States has a black president, but we haven’t achieved the dream of a post-racial society,” Talley said. “We still need to do so much more. Having a black state’s attorney, a black judge, a black president isn’t a magic wand to cure all racial inequality.” Talley noted that even as a judge, he has found that “race trumps status ... and I not only accept that, I embrace it.”

When introducing her, Deputy County Attorney Elizabeth Theobalds noted that Key, a civil support supervisor who has been employed with the county since 1984, has served as a mentor for her, along with a source of comfort.

“The phrase that comes to mind is firm guidance. ... She has always been there and has been supportive,” Theobalds said. “I see many faces I’ve called upon, but the most important that I ran to in a panic is hers.”

Theobalds also noted Key’s “compassion, kindness and empathy” toward everyone she meets.

“That’s the single most important and critical thing we can recognize,” Theobalds said. “She’s a vital part of the clerk’s office. She has truly worked hard for the citizens of Charles County.”

Retired Judge Richard J. Clark said Cory, who served as a clerk in his courtroom, holds a special place in his heart.

“There was nobody I loved more than Rene. She remains very, very special,” Clark said. “I selfishly always wanted her here. She was a ray of sunshine. She ... made my day and, I think, that of those around her.”

Clark noted that even through overwhelming personal losses like the death of her husband and son, Cory maintained a constant sunny disposition, which he found encouraging.

“She was always a joy to be around. She was the most efficient clerk I ever had,” Clark said. “She had that enthusiasm that was contagious. I think it made everyone in the courtroom better.”

Elsewhere in the county, local lawyers Michele Harris and Eden Brown-Gaines counseled people at the Health Partners office in Waldorf free of charge for Law Day.

“[Harris] wanted to give back ... so we brainstormed and she said, ‘We want to dedicate a day to you,’” Health Partners Executive Director Chrisie Mulcahey said. “That was really nice of them to give us a whole day. I think it was a great thing. Health Partners, for being known as a warm and comforting environment, might have been a good place for them to come and talk.”

Mulcahey said the women saw about six people through the course of the day.