As the head of the prominent Denver-based Starkey International Institute of Household Management, Mary Louise Starkey has long been recognized for bringing professionalism to the butler industry. But the city's "First Lady of Service" has also become known among former students, staff and industry colleagues for alleged mismanagement, turmoil and physical altercations at her school ("At Your Disservice," August 9). Now Starkey, 58, has another blemish on her record: She was arrested at the Starkey mansion on November 13 under suspicion of felony second-degree assault.
"It's true," says Gary Smith, Starkey International's Director of Placement and Client Services, when reached at the school shortly after the arrest. Smith declined to elaborate, saying, "You know, sir, I'd love to talk to you, but I am not going to do it."
The arrest arose out of an alleged incident on February 7. Former student Lisa Kirkpatrick claims that Starkey grabbed her roughly by the neck and shoved her face toward a mirror because Starkey was upset about her pupil's appearance that day. According to the November 13 arrest warrant, Starkey allegedly said, "I already told you twenty times not to have your picture taken until you have had your hair done!" shaking Kirkpatrick and slapping her on the arm. Several other students said they witnessed the episode.
Mary Louise Starkey
The Denver City Attorney's Office, which prosecutes lower-level disturbances that fall under municipal ordinances, had originally filed a misdemeanor assault charge against Starkey because of the incident, but the case was dropped and refiled last week by the Denver District Attorney's Office. On Friday, November 16, that office formally charged Starkey with second-degree assault, a felony. She is scheduled for a 9 a.m. hearing on November 28.
"It's not an uncommon occurrence for a city charge to be upgraded to a state charge, or a state charge to be downgraded to a city charge once all the investigative information is reviewed by the attorney," says Lynn Kimbrough, spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney's Office. The change was made in part because of a report by Dr. David McCord of Denver Health Medical Center, who noted that Kirkpatrick had suffered a cervical disc injury and was at substantial risk for permanent disfigurement.
"Hopefully she won't hurt anybody anymore," says Kirkpatrick, who says she has developed serious medical problems because of the alleged attack. "I have lived with this godawful pain. I couldn't imagine anybody doing what she did to me."
In a meeting that same day that was recorded by one of her students, Starkey claimed she simply "turned [Kirkpatrick] around to look in the mirror.... I wasn't pushing her, I wasn't angry. I turned her around and said, 'Look in the mirror.' I was in a hurry, frankly. I didn't mean anything."
Starkey founded the school in 1990 after deciding that she wanted to move beyond the housecleaning job she'd taken years earlier to make ends meet. She created the term "household managers" and designed a one-of-a-kind school that has now churned out more than 1,000 certified household managers, or butlers, to serve the nation's new rich.
In addition to the Kirkpatrick incident, there have been other purported altercations over the past year involving Starkey, including one by Raymond Champion, a former teacher there who claims she pushed him and threw a glass of juice on him when he quit his job in May. In September, the city attorney's office dismissed an assault charge against Starkey related to this episode, but asked to have it considered as evidence in the Kirkpatrick case.
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"I just hope in the end she can get through this and hopefully be a better person," says Champion when reached by phone.
The arrival of the two plainclothes detectives who arrested Starkey at roughly 2:45 last week came as a surprise to the school, which was preparing for a student graduation ceremony three days later. "It was a shock for everyone," says one current employee who asked to remain anonymous. "[Starkey] was white, she was scared. She didn't know what was going on."
Roughly an hour later, Smith and two of his Starkey International colleagues arrived at the city jail to post Starkey's $35,000 bond, only to be told that her case hadn't been processed yet and that it would be hours before she could be released. Before leaving, the three discussed how best to cover the bail. When it was suggested that they use Starkey International's business credit card to pay for part of it, one of Smith's colleagues said, "If you put it on Starkey's card, the IRS will be all over us."
Starkey's son Chris eventually posted bond just before 9 p.m. Her case still hadn't been fully processed, however, so he had to wait for several more hours while his mother passed the time in a holding cell. Finally, at 1:15 a.m., Starkey was released. Frazzled and bleary-eyed, she declined to answer questions and walked off with her son.