Wearing rose corsages, Talma Brayboy, Carol Jackson, Lelia McLean, Almaria Coates, Cynthia Johnson and Viesta Williams are recognized for their decades of service by the Directorate of Human Resources at their retirement luncheon attended by more than 150 people Friday at Club Meade.

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- When Almaria "Rita" Coates first started working at the Directorate of Human Resources, Lyndon Johnson was president, the war in Vietnam was raging, Green Bay won Super Bowl I, a gallon of gas cost 33 cents and Elvis married Priscilla.

That was 1967. Now, 44 years later, Coates is retiring as chief of reassignments of DHR's Personnel Strength Management, along with five other DHR staffers.

It's not often that six longtime employees with decades of service retire at the same time from an entire organization. So on Friday, the DHR bid a grand farewell at a three-hour retirement luncheon at Club Meade that featured an awards presentation, slide show, music and poetry followed by dancing at the Brass Lounge.

"This is fantastic," said Coates, who resides in Annapolis. "I see so much love out there. I am going miss seeing everyone. We've grown to be such a great family."

As the six women were escorted into the ballroom and took their seats at a long table decorated with balloons and votive candles, the 150 people who attended -- family, friends and current and former co-workers -- stood and later applauded.

"It's such a tribute," said Cynthia Johnson of Retirement Services, who retired after 37 years on Fort Meade (35 with the Military Personnel Division, including the past decade as a Retirement Services officer). "All 37 of my years have been serving Soldiers, retirees and their families, and I've enjoyed all 37 years."

Wendy Messick, director of DHR, welcomed everyone to the bittersweet event honoring her staff. "It's a sad time to say goodbye to these stars," she said.

The group, who had signed up for the Voluntary Early Retirement Plan, included four members of DHR's Personnel Services branch: Lelia McLean, retiring after 32 years; Carol Jackson, retiring after 29 years; Talma "T.J." Brayboy, retiring after 28 years; and Viesta Williams, retiring after 24 years.

"Thank you for making Monday through Friday so enjoyable," said Jackson, 69, to the audience. The Hanover resident has worked for the garrison since 1986 after working for Defense Finance and Accounting Services on Fort Meade for four years.

In his remarks, Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein discussed a theme of last week's Women's History Month observance -- empowerment.

"Empowerment comes by leading by example," he said. "Empowerment is something you earn by time, experience and wisdom. ... The empowerment of these ladies is through that time, energy, passion and love they have for this community.

"Thank you for all you have done. ... You have left your mark on Fort Meade every day you came to work, 44 years on down."

As participants dined on ribs, fish and enchiladas, a slide show displayed images of the retirees at work and with family.

"This [recognition] is so much more than I ever imagined, above and beyond," said McClean, 56, of Owings Mills, who joined DHR in 1992.

Music was provided by "DJ Rich," aka Richard Lee, chief of DHR's Military Personnel Division. "Almost 200 years of combined service, I feel like I owe them this," Lee said of the event.

After lunch, each retiree was called forward with her spouse and/or children and showered with awards, gifts and hugs.

That included a plaque from the Fort Meade Civilian Welfare Fund; a Retirement Services pin and certificate; a Department of the Army Certificate of Appreciation for immediate family; DA retirement certificate; a citation signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley; a brick from garrison command with the retiree's name and years of service for the Walk of Fame at Constitution Park; a black marble plaque with a gold clock from DHR; and a commander's coin within a framed photograph of the Roberts Avenue building where they had previously worked.

During the presentations, Messick offered praise and anecdotes about each retiree. "You're one in a million," she said to Coates. "Your inspiration as a role model and mentor will be missed."

Bernadine Bautista, lead tech for Strength Management, and retired 1st Sgt. Rodney Ramsey, who is replacing Coates, then presented a framed photograph of Coates bearing the inscription "The Cornerstone of MPD" that will hang in the office.

In his remarks, Deputy Installation Commander John Moeller said this was the fourth retirement ceremony he attended that week. "There are over 400 years of experience," he said. "You can't just hire new employees who have that knowledge and experience. I don't know what we will do."

Then, turning to the retirees, Moeller said, "You are and always will be part of the Fort Meade family."

Retired Sgt. 1st Class Sammy Payne, executive assistant to the deputy chief of staff the Pentagon, recited the poem "Tribute to Old Glory" and presented a folded flag to Brayboy, a former sergeant who served in the Army from 1974 to 1982.

Among those who attended was Steve Ashley, a former colleague of Coates and Johnson, who flew in from Maine.

"It's great; they deserve it," said Ashley, who retired in 2010 as Retirement Services officer. "It's the end of an era for the MPD with Rita and Cynthia retiring."

Retirement plans vary for the group. While all share a desire to travel and spend time with family, Coates, who is 70, will continue to ski in Colorado and Nevada and volunteer in her community and church.

"I'm looking forward to spending time together and traveling, and just enjoying life," said Johnson, who resides in Severna Park with her husband, Roger, who will retire after 41 years with Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

Jackson, 69, who joined DHR in 1996, will catch up on her reading and volunteer. Williams plans to open a data processing business.

"I like work," the Odenton resident said.

But Brayboy, 63, drew laughs and applause for what she will not do:

"I will never, never, ever work again."

The Temple Hill resident, who worked from 1987 to 2010 in Human Resources Command in Alexandria, Va., said she will "travel some and enjoy my family and whatever life God has left for me."

After the presentations, each retiree was given a moment to speak.

"I'm not gonna miss you because I'm going to see you again," Williams said.

"I want to thank everyone I worked with," Johnson said. "I can honestly say it's been a pleasure. ... And this has been a wonderful send-off."

Coates delivered the final thanks.

"The grace of God has made it possible for me to serve 44 years, seven months," she said. "I've inherited so many families. ... It's just so nice to have you all here. I love you all. And now my life is in God's hands -- all my dreams and all my plans."

Page last updated Fri March 30th, 2012 at 14:35