OCEAN CITY — A beloved Ocean City resident lost a long battle this week and the community lost one of its greatest assets when Kathy Mathias succumbed to cancer on Monday at her resort home.
Mathias, 58, wife of Senator James N. Mathias, Jr., served the town she loved for nearly three decades and was most recently appointed to the position of City Clerk for the town of Ocean City. According to a recent article on her in this publication, Mathias recalled coming to Ocean City for the first time at the age of 10, standing on the beach and thinking, “I don’t want to leave this place.”
Nearly four decades later, she left an indelible mark on the resort and a tear in the fabric of the community that won’t easily be mended. She served faithfully at the side of her husband during his rise from city councilman to mayor and from state delegate to now state senator, but Kathy Mathias’ own career continued on a remarkable parallel course.
After serving as administrative assistant to the mayor, secretary to the city manager, administrative aide to the mayor and assistant to the city manager during her civil service career, Mathias was appointed City Clerk last year. However, her civil service career came second to her vast charitable and fundraising work, and most importantly, her family.
She may have been “First Lady” of Ocean City for a decade, but her family always came first. Mathias and her husband raised two children in their adopted hometown, both of whom are carrying on in her spirit of giving back, caring and dedication as they embark on their own careers.
“She was a great friend and wife and mother,” Mayor Rick Meehan said this week. “Family always came first for her. She was a great supporter and partner for Jim and she put in place a solid path for Lauren and Trevor to follow. She was a terrific mom.”
Lauren Mathias is a counselor with Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services, while Trevor is nearing the end of his undergraduate work in biochemistry with an eye on a future medical degree. In one of the last interviews she gave with The Dispatch in April, Mathias recalled asking Trevor if her ongoing battle with cancer was driving his career path.
“I asked him once if my cancer diagnosis had caused him to consider a career in medicine,” she said at the time. “He told me that what I had gone through made him want to be a better person and help others. I know I gain a lot of strength from my faith and the love and support of my family.”
Mathias drew from the love and support of her family, and her extended family, through two bouts with cancer, first in 1997 and again 10 years later starting in 2007 until she finally succumbed to the disease this week. During that same April interview, she said the drive to push on came from her family.
“Jim and the kids gave me the support and courage to continue,” she said. “I knew I had to be an example for my family and the community. I needed a positive attitude to get through this and I wanted to be a survivor. I needed to be a survivor.”
In the end, Mathias could not win her battle with cancer, but her legacy of kindness, grace and dignity lives on through her family, according to long-time friend and American Cancer Society Relay for Life advocate Chris Butler.
“Kathy’s kids are incredible testaments of her strength, love and compassion,” Butler said. “She has taught them well and they are remarkable people. She has always been extremely proud of both of them and this week, I know she is looking down on them, prouder than ever.”
Beyond her selfless dedication to her family was Mathias’ remarkable public service career, most notably her volunteer work with the American Cancer Society (ACS). She served two terms as president of the Worcester County chapter and served as co-chair for the area’s Pink Ribbon series of events each fall. Ironically, one of the signature events of the series, the Poor Girls Open fishing tournament, is going on this week.
Pink Ribbon Foundation founder and former chair Nancy Dofflemyer said this week Mathias never once backed down from her dedication to ACS.
“She was an amazing, amazing woman,” she said. “With all she was going through, she never once stopped to think of herself. She was still leading the foundation and hosting the meetings at her house and cooking for everybody without ever wavering.”
That resolute spirit provided inspiration to the Pink Ribbon volunteers, according to Dofflemyer.
“She was quite a fighter,” she said. “Even though she had been fighting this terrible battle, in the middle of all of this treatment, she kept wanting to come back to work. She was difficult to pin down, you practically had to hold her down.”
It was a dedication that carried over to her professional career, where she continued to work during her battle with cancer.
“I worked side by side with her for 28 years and Kathy’s dedication to the town was just unbelievable, not just to the government of the town, but the people of the town,” said City Manager Dennis Dare this week. “She cared so much. I’d often leave City Hall at night and she’d still be there. She was very dedicated to this community.”
Dare said Mathias remained upbeat at work, despite her own personal battle.
“She was an inspiration for everybody,” he said. “She just never had a bad day. She was always upbeat and pleasant to everybody.”
Meehan echoed the sentiment.
“You always knew you could depend on her,” he said. “She was always a voice of reason and was a pleasure to be around. She loved what she did and she was very good at it.”
Dare said Mathias’ demeanor while tending to the business of the city was as steadfast as her resolve in other endeavors.
“Sometimes, things can be a little adverse around City Hall, but she never got rattled,” he said. “She was always a calming influence, and when she spoke, people listened because she always had something important to say. I don’t even think of replacing her because you can’t. Someone with her attributes only comes around about once in a lifetime.”
Meehan said there was a palpable void at City Hall this week.
“I know there’s a real empty feeling right now at City Hall,” he said. “Everybody feels it. Kathy was an important part of our government and City Hall for over 25 years.”
Beyond her service to the city she loved, Mathias will be remembered for her dedication to family, friends, community, her vast volunteer work and her faith, according to Meehan.
“I always admired and respected her and I learned a lot from her over the years,” he said. “She fought her battle with great dignity and always led by example. It’s with great sadness we now experience her passing.”
Her passing will not have been in vain if the lessons she so steadily taught during her own personal battle with cancer are adhered to by those she leaves behind.
“I think that everyone needs to be their own advocate for their health,” she said during the April interview. “Education is so important and early detection is crucial. Follow up with a doctor. There are diagnostic tests that can eliminate your worries or get a diagnosis early.”