Just eight days after the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners voted to name the county’s new animal shelter in her honor, former four-term commissioner Linda L. Kelley has died at the age of 74.

Kelley, of Owings, was notably the longest-running female commissioner in Calvert County’s history, having served 16 consecutive years from 1994 to 2010; her tenure on the board is tied only with past commissioner Wilbur Grover, according to county records.

“Being a commissioner was a habit,” Kelley told The Calvert Recorder in a 2014 interview. Though she tried twice more to run again for a county commissioner seat in the past two elections, only to fall short in the primaries, she never stopped the service work she did for Calvert County residents — and animals.

A great-grandmother and avid animal lover, Kelley served on the Tri-County Animal Shelter Advisory Board and led efforts to secure Calvert County its own animal shelter — a project currently underway, to be named after her. As a commissioner, she oversaw the establishment of an animal control ordinance, providing greater protections for local pets, as well as the opening of two new dog parks.

She served as a member of the Calvert Pet Coalition, Friends of Felines rescue and National Pot Belly Pig Placement Network. She kept some pet pigs of her own as well — in 2010, she told the Recorder she had seven of them, each named and loved.

“Out of all the commissioners that I served with, there was no one more passionate for her causes than Linda Kelley,” said Del. Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s), who served on the BOCC with Kelley. “Her true heart was for people, trying to help people. It could be seen in her support for Safe Harbor, and without her, it probably would not have happened.”

Kelley was chair of the board for the Safe Harbor domestic violence shelter for women and children, and proudly assisted local Boy and Girl Scout troops, often honoring Eagle Scouts at their award ceremonies on behalf of the county. She helped bring the “On Watch” World War II Memorial to Solomons, along with the Watermen’s Wharf.

“She loved the Eagle Scouts. She loved the military. The On Watch statue in the Solomons Marina — she was totally instrumental in getting that project done by raising funds in her spare time by selling ceremonial bricks,” Clark said.

“Her heart was in her country and in her county.”

Clark said the first time he met Kelley was in Dunkirk, rescuing feral cats late at night. He said he will miss her.

“I enjoyed serving with her and working with her,” Clark said, acknowledging they didn’t always agree while on the board together. “You could have your fights with her over issues, but when you left the building, everything was OK.”

Kelley spent time serving on the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland as a commissioner, and served on the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission from 2000 to 2010, a commission to study Southern Maryland transportation needs from 2007 to 2008, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, the Citizens Advisory Committee to the BOCC, the county’s ethics commission and the Commission for Women.

Calvert was primarily Democrat for many decades. However, Kelley, a Republican, came on the scene at a time when the GOP — now the county’s dominant political party — was on the rise, when she ran for commissioner in 1994.

During her four terms as a commissioner, Kelley saw nine schools break ground in Calvert. With the influx of residential growth and development happening in those years, the BOCC passed the county’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, ensuring the county’s growth was sustainable. Her goal then and even as recently as 2014 was to focus any new development within the boundaries of the county’s town centers, as she explained to the Recorder during her final race for commissioner. The county ultimately was able to preserve 30,000 acres of farmland over the course of the years in which she served on the board.

Kelley was also a proponent of funding the local public schools above the state-required minimum per-pupil maintenance of effort, believing this helped make Calvert schools among the best in Maryland.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former commissioner Kelley,” said County Administrator Terry Shannon, who added she had the privilege of working with Kelley for the entire 16 years the former commissioner was on the board. “She consistently had the best interest of the citizens of Calvert County at heart. Even beyond her years as a public servant, she continued to work tirelessly on issues to improve the lives of Calvert County residents and their beloved pets. ... I will really miss her. She loved Calvert County.”

“I am honored and blessed to have known Linda Kelley,” deputy county administrator and former commissioner Wilson Parran, a Democrat, said. He served eight years on the board with her, from 2002 to 2010.

“Calvert County is a better place to live because of Linda’s compassion for animals and people,” Parran said. “She was also committed to preserving the rural landscape of our county. There was never a question where Linda stood on any issue facing our county.”

Like Clark, Parran said while he and Kelley occasionally had differing opinions on issues facing the county, “we were able to walk away as friends. ... I cherish the memories of our time together serving the citizens of our county.”

Current Commissioners’ Vice President Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said Kelley was a mentor to him. She served as president of the Dunkirk Area Concerned Citizens Association — a position he succeeded her in.

He said the commissioners met with Kelley the day before her death and presented her a plaque recognizing her as the namesake of the planned Linda L. Kelley Animal Shelter.

“I assured her she was in good hands,” Slaughenhoupt said. “She is now in the Lord’s hands and, I’m sure, is making herself known throughout heaven. God rest her soul.”

Many comments left by community members on her Facebook page following her death Wednesday used a common term to remember Kelley: “an icon.”

Kelley’s family announced her death on her Facebook page: “Today Calvert County lost an icon. Linda passed peacefully to her reward surrounded by family at home. Linda was a Wife, Mom, Grandmom and Gigi, a friend, a mentor and a leader among her peers.”

Her husband, Tom, whom she married in 1980, also posted: “If an Angel had appeared and told me that I would be happily married but only for 36 years 3 months and 7 days, I would have JUMPED at the chance. And I am glad we did. Linda was a great wife and partner. My heart is broken at my loss.”

The family also thanked the community for its prayers.

A visitation for Kelley will be from 2 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, at Rausch Funeral Home in Owings. Funeral service will be at noon Friday, Feb. 10, at First Lutheran Church of Calvert County, with interment at Southern Memorial Gardens. Contributions in her memory may be made to Safe Harbor of Calvert County, 254 Merrimac Court, Prince Frederick, MD 20678, or at www.safeharborcalvert.com.