Outlasting the Beatles, Vietnam and Watergate as a 50-year State Worker
When Jumary West started working for the state 50 years ago this month, the Vietnam War was still raging, The Beatles hadn’t broken up yet and the Watergate scandal was still a few years down the road.
West will mark her half century with the state on May 16 and shows no signs of stopping.
As the chief fiscal officer for the Emergency Number Systems Board that governs the state 911 operations, she is helping to implement the NextGen process that will allow distressed people to text, most important to the deaf.
“I’m excited,” West said. “It’s great when you’re at the beginning of things, it keeps your mind fresh.”
West was at the beginning of things when she became auditor for the state’s first Department of Transportation Secretary Harry Hughes.
Hughes, who passed away in March, went on to become governor.
“What a gentleman,” recalled West, whose first name is pronounced jumm-a-ree. “Just as nice as can be, quiet, respectful and dignified.”
West has worked for seven governors and this week welcomed her 11th Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services secretary. Of course, she was there as the fiscal officer when the state combined the corrections and public safety units into one department, including the state Fire Marshal.
“The State Fire Marshal’s Office had a hand grenade sitting prominently on a shelf in the Office.” West said chuckling. “I knew what that was, the little pineapple looking thing.”
West was recently interviewed in the department’s conference room dedicated to former department Secretary Bishop L. Robinson Jr., who lived two doors down from her years ago and later became department secretary.
The mother of two daughters, West was taking care of her first when she visited a friend in the unemployment compensation office in 1969. The friend suggested she apply for a job and the Morgan State University graduate scored a 100 on the test before immediately starting to work three days a week for the State.
“I made $1.90 an hour,” she said. “I remember we had free prescriptions and free health care then. We were so upset when they told us we had to start paying $1 for our prescriptions.”
West remembers another governor, J. Millard Tawes, who served from 1959 to 1967, visiting the Fire Marshal’s office.
“He looked like the Monopoly fellow, black coat and all,” she said. “He was a nice courteous gentleman. He always said hello to me when he came in”
As a manager, West has hired scores of people into state government over the years, many who have gone on to be their own managers. Wanda Perry, with 34 years herself, is now a payroll supervisor with the department.
“She saw something in me,” Perry said. “She’s a big part of what I am today. And she’s still sharp and knows her stuff.”
Remaining physically fit was important to West, who took up judo and yoga for many years. Now she stays limber chasing around 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
“As long as I feel good, the pipes are working and the ticker’s good,” West said when asked how long she intended to keep working. “If I wasn’t here, I’d be sitting home planning some other activities to keep me busy.”