Most City employees are anonymous, their names and passions unknown outside their own departments. Except for television cameos during an occasional disaster, flood, or blizzard or an unhappy newspaper story regarding some dereliction of duty, City employees generally serve their careers outside of the public eye.
One exception to this general rule came to mind today with the news that Kate Shea, director of the City's Cultural Resources Office, is retiring this month. (Her last day in the office is today.)
For more than twenty years, Kate Shea's job and the passion with which she has done it have earned her the rare distinction of being the City employee most complained about and praised by name. And not infrequently. My predecessor mentioned her to me, his to him, and his to him.
I want to stress that the praise strongly outweighed the blame, and that even the complaints (by corner cutters, window salesmen, and purveyors of plastic fencing) proved that Kate Shea was doing her job well.
St. Louis is a City that has managed to preserve an incredible amount of its stock of historic buildings '“ sometimes as empty buildings awaiting a new use, more often as carefully rehabilitated homes, offices, restaurants, stores, and public spaces. That preservation has been aided by a tangled book of ordinances and regulations, the enthusiasm of dozens of neighborhood organizations, and '“ critically '“ the unblinking eye of Kate Shea.
I would bet that there isn't a block of the City that Kate Shea can't describe from memory, or a window/door/roof/porch/fence/gazebo/wall/sign installed in an historic district that she didn't approve or disapprove.
Few of the City's employees have ever left such a mark on our City as Kate Shea has. She is, quite literally, irreplaceable.