Jean M. Dahl, longtime administrative assistant to former Baltimore City Circuit Court judge, dies

Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun
·5 min read

Jean M. Dahl, longtime administrative assistant to former Chief Judge Martin P. Welch of the Baltimore City Circuit Court, died Jan. 25 of cardiac arrest at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown. The Owings Mills resident who formerly lived in Catonsville, was 70.

“Jean was a warm and engaging person,” said Judge Welch, who had worked with Ms. Dahl for 40 years, 34 of which she was his chief administrative assistant.

“She had a very engaging smile and personality and was the first person people encountered when they came to my office. She treated everyone the same whether you were a chief judge or someone delivering mail from the mailroom,” Judge Welch said. “She was extremely loyal to me and my family, and when things became legally or personally difficult at times, she’d say, ‘What can we do?’ ‘What can I do?’”

Retired Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge David W. Young also was a longtime friend and courthouse confidant of Ms. Dahl’s.

“Like Judge Welch, I knew Jean for 40 years and she was one of the administrative assistants when we both started out at City Hall as young lawyers in the City Law Department, and she was like a mother hen,” Judge Young said.

“She took inexperienced lawyers, we were newbies, who didn’t know anything [about] how the solicitor’s office operated, and since that time, I’ve told law clerks and young lawyers to be kind to the clerical staff. They will guide you, they will lead you, and they will protect you. They make the trains run on time,” Judge Young said. “They kept you out of hot water and harm’s way. Judges always get the credit and the glory, when the clerical staff should get the credit and the glory.”

The former Jean Muriel Smith, daughter of Joseph Smith, and his wife, Geneva Smith, a domestic worker, was born and raised in Baltimore. Trained to be a secretary after graduating in 1968 from Edmondson High School, she began her 44-year career with the city working in the Baltimore City Health Department.

In 1970, she joined the Baltimore City Law Department as an administrative assistant to Jay M. Caplan, the assistant city solicitor, and later went to work for Judge Welch when he was appointed to the Baltimore City Circuit Court in 1992.

“We worked together for over 20 years and those were the days of electric typewriters,” Mr. Caplan said. “Jean was diligent, competent and very responsible when it came to her work. She was very old-school and always a pleasure to be with and talk to.”

Judge Welch considered her a friend and thought of her as his sister.

“Jean was by my side through every milestone in my legal and judicial career,” he wrote in a tribute that was printed in Ms. Dahl’s funeral program. He also praised her technical skills when it came to computers.

“Several years ago as we both approached retirement, those who knew how dependent I was upon Jean’s computer and technology skills were a bit concerned about my ability to function without ‘my’ Jean.” Jean did all my typing, emails, scheduling, etc. I was truly dependent on her,” he wrote.

“Jean must have also been concerned as well. Shortly before our joint retirement, she made sure I was comfortable applying basic computer skills, such as typing, sending emails and managing my schedule,” Judge Welch wrote. “Seven years later, all to Jean’s credit, this previously overdependent retired judge is now capable of tackling the simplest technological tasks.”

During his career, Judge Welch had 24 law clerks who were guided by Ms. Dahl, who had no children of her own, but embraced them as if they were.

“She made an impression on so many people and she kept in touch with those law clerks who went on to become successful lawyers,” Judge Welch said.

Ms. Dahl attended the former law clerk’s weddings, met their families and children, and even went on vacation with them.

“We all benefited from Ms. Jean’s exceptional example of what it meant to be a true professional — to treat every person you encounter with dignity and respect, to be kind and thoughtful,” the clerks wrote in Ms. Dahl’s funeral program. “While she was a fine example of professionalism, Ms. Jean also illustrated the importance of family and faith.”

Ms. Dahl was a longtime active member of Faith Baptist Church where she served as a member of the Sunday school, choir, and women and counseling ministries. She enjoyed teaching young adult Sunday school, served as Women’s Ministry president for four years, and was the longtime church clerk.

“Jean was a woman of great faith and she loved Faith Baptist Church,” Judge Young said. “She did so many things there I wondered when she had time to sleep.”

Ms. Dahl was active nationally in Baptist affairs. For more than 35-years, she traveled throughout the United States attending the Lott Carey Foreign Missionary Convention and attended the annual National Baptist Congress on Christian Education, and had been a youth adviser and member of the educational staff of the National Baptist Congress.

She was known for her stylish dress and colorful millinery.

“Jean had a great sense of style and quite the dresser who loved hats,” Judge Welch said. “She was old-fashioned and had been taught that you put on a hat and coat Oct. 15 and don’t stop wearing them until April 15,” Judge Welch said.

Ms. Dahl’s husband of 15 years, Norman Dahl, a city Department of Recreation and Parks employee, died three years ago.

In addition to caring for her husband, she cared for her mother who died at 104, said Charlotte A. Rogers, a goddaughter who lives in Gwynn Oak, and is Ms. Dahl’s personal representative.

She liked doting on her many godchildren, watching MSNBC to keep abreast of political developments, shopping at Talbots, and going out for dinner.

Funeral services were held Feb. 4 at the Calvin B. Scruggs Funeral Home in East Baltimore.

In addition to Ms. Rogers, she is survived by a niece and several cousins.