Reporters get all the glory, what with our names all bold in our bylines.
Spokespeople get glory, too, with their names in print day after day.
But in between are folks like Florence Steffen, the secretary in the Public Information Office at the Anne Arundel County Police Department. For 35 years, Florence was the go-between for reporters and cops. She died over the weekend at her home in Glen Burnie.
Thirty-five years is an amazing stretch. I can only imagine how many reporters she dealt with over the years. I don’t know how someone could put up with us for so long!
I’ve never been a full-time cops reporter, but, like all Capital-Gazette reporters, I spent plenty of time with Florence.
When I was at the Maryland Gazette, we had a rotation in which we would send reporters to police HQ on Mondays to sift through police reports, looking for items for the police beat, news digests and stories.
At The Capital, I’ve filled in for the regular police reporters when they are sick or on vacation.
Upon hearing of Florence’s death, my colleagues have been sharing our favorite Florence stories. One of my colleagues offered that she kind of thought Florence might just be at the police office forever. She was surely an institution.
I’ll never forget the sound of Florence’s gravelly voice, or the scented candles she’d burn in the office. (That had to be against fire code!) She’d share her take on stupid criminals and we’d chat about goings-on in north county.
I’m sure the police department will find someone to take Florence’s place. Or maybe not — with all the budget-cutting going on, maybe the public information officers won’t have a secretary anymore.
Life will go on, with reporters and cops and police reports and stupid criminals. But it won’t be the same without Florence.
Here’s the text of the press release the police put out this morning announcing Florence’s death:
THE ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT MOURNS THE LOSS OF LONGTIME SECRETARY FLORENCE STEFFEN
Secretary was a fixture in the Public Information Office for 35 Years
It is with deep regret and profound sadness that we inform you of the passing of Ms. Florence Steffen of the Anne Arundel County Police Department’s Public Information Office. Florence died at her home in Glen Burnie on the evening of May 15, 2010. She was 79.
Florence was raised in West Baltimore and graduated from Western High School in 1948. She never missed a day of school in 12 years and would continue that consistency and dependability throughout her career at the police department. The majority of her life was spent living in Glen Burnie.
She joined the Anne Arundel County Police Department in August of 1975, where she enjoyed a brief stint in Central Records. It soon became apparent that her social skills would be an asset in the Public Information Office and she would go on to spend the rest of her career there as a secretary. During her career, she served as the PIO secretary and kept meticulous files for the office, which proved to be a significant historical reference through the years. Some of her everyday office duties included sorting incident reports for the department and the press, answering press inquiries and cutting out newspaper clippings about the department. Through many years of change, Florence remained the one constant in the office and her invaluable presence was profound.
She was preceded in death by her husband and is survived by her sisters, Lori and Ruth; her brother, Butch; her daughters, Carla and Shirley; her son, Walter; her eight grandchildren, five great grandchildren and numerous other relatives. Funeral arrangements will be announced at a later time.
“I was extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Florence Steffen,” said Chief of Police Colonel James Teare, Sr. “She served the police department with excellence for more than three decades and was well respected by members of the department and the public. We extend our deepest condolences to her family during this difficult time.”
UPDATE: My colleague Eric Hartley wrote a lovely column about Florence in Tuesday’s paper. An excerpt: “Spokesmen and the reporters they sparred with came and went. But through nine police chiefs, Steffen was the gatekeeper, and it was a role she jealously guarded. The CIA could have taken lessons on information security from Florence.”