Protecting the Heartbeat of America

By Sandra Zunino

They deliver the mail, help ensure food safety, protect citizens from terrorism, administer health care to wounded military personnel and much more – they are federal employees and NARFE, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association is looking out for them.

Founded in 1921 by 14 people who decided the federal community needed an advocate to safeguard the earned rights and benefits of active and retired federal employees, NARFE now has more than 1300 chapters encompassing 300,000-plus members. Thirty-four chapters are in Maryland alone and the local Tidewater Chapter, founded in 1974, services Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties.

One chapter covering five counties is not typical, according to NARFE Tidewater Chapter President Evelyn Kirby. “Other chapters have a tighter zone of membership,” she says, “but this chapter was set up when there were fewer people from the federal community on the Eastern Shore.”

For the federal community, NARFE sponsors and supports legislation to protect health and retirement benefits, and informs members about legislative issues, primarily retirement income and health care benefits, taxation and cost of living adjustments among other things. However, why does the federal community need such a strong voice?

“Basically, everything that affects federal workers literally requires an act of Congress,” explains Evelyn, who also serves as the NARFE Legislative Director for Maryland. “Whenever we have something that works for us or against us, it came through the U.S. Congress and/or the President of the United States.”

Looking out for the best interests of federal workers requires people who not only understand the law, but also know how to work and deal successfully with Congress, explains Evelyn.

A NARFE member for 11 years, Evelyn refers to federal workers as “The Heartbeat of America.” She admits she delivers an impassioned response when she hears unfair criticism of government employees. “These are the people who are working on America’s behalf,” she says, “serving this country through various occupations and they don’t work for huge profits or bonuses.”

Evelyn says that NARFE acknowledges that some changes and cuts may be necessary as the country faces tough decision about reducing the deficit, but stresses that offering the best pay, retirement and health benefits is necessary to attract a bright and efficient workforce.

NARFE is not union, Evelyn points out, and as a non-partisan entity, NARFE does not distinguish between political parties for anything it is working on. “They look at what they believe is the right thing to do,” she says.

The NARFE Tidewater Chapter holds monthly lunch meetings from September through June at various restaurants across the five counties.  Guest speakers spotlight local issues such as uses for salvaged wood from the felled Wye Oak, updates on legislation, oyster beds in the local rivers, insurance options and senior living and care subjects.

December’s holiday party raises funds to combat Alzheimer’s Disease. Over the past decade, NARFE members contributed more than $9 million to Alzheimer’s Research,  its principle charity. The next meeting on June 8 features an annual picnic at Tuckahoe State Park and is open to anyone who wishes to learn more about NARFE. Cost is $18. R.S.V.P. is due June 4 for members and their guests and June 1 for nonmembers.

NARFE membership is open to civilians who are or will be eligible to receive an annuity or survivor annuity from the federal retirement programs of any agency of the U.S. government. For more information about NARFE, visit For information about the Tidewater Chapter, call 410-604-1141 or 410-745-4110.