Mary Harvey, a former Baltimore County Council aide who became a department head and was known for her support of programs for the homeless and underprivileged, died of colon cancer Aug. 26.
"She was one of the heroes of Baltimore County," said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, who hired Harvey in 1994 as an eastern sector coordinator in the newly created Office of Community Conservation.
Ruppersberger said it was Harvey's concern for people and her energy that won him over despite her lack of an advanced college degree.
"I took a risk but it was one that paid off," Ruppersberger said. "When you hire for positions like this you can do national searches and look at degrees but when you're talking about re-investment in communities and revitalization, you're talking about people. She earned her spurs working with people and communities."
Ruppersberger eventually named her director of the office in 2000.
The former Mary Derda was raised in Perry Hall and graduated from in 1976. Ten years later she graduated from what was then .
For the next eight years, Harvey worked as a legislative aide. First, for Councilman Dale Volz in 1986 and then four years later for Councilman Vince Gardina.
Gardina said he interviewed Harvey for a position on his staff after he won in the same year Volz lost.
"She was just really gregarious," said Gardina. "She was this type-A personality with a really, really good nature."
Gardina represented communities stretching from Middle River to Perry Hall during his first ten years in office. During that time, the county began to focus on revitalization of the eastside waterfront communities and some of the crime-plagued apartment complexes including Riverdale and The Village of Tall Trees.
"She was a big advocate for the people who lived there and wanted to make sure they were not displaced," said Gardina.
PJ Widerman met Harvey in the early 1990s. Harvey was working for Ruppersberger and Widerman was vice president of a property management company that had worked with the county on affordable housing projects.
"Mary never let anyone walk away from the table when it came to helping people who were in dire need of help," Widerman said.
"She was really a champion of social justice and housing equality," Widerman said. "It was never just enough. There was always something more that had to be done."
Harvey's concerns for the homeless led her to help organize an annual vigil before a County Council meeting where some formerly homeless people would testify about their lives and the need for more help for county homeless shelters and programs.
Ruppersberger had similar recollections. The former county executive said Harvey was constantly emphasizing the faces of people affected by revitalization efforts.
Ruppersberger said Harvey once introduced him to a woman living in The Village of Tall Trees who was a single mother of three and supporting herself through prostitution.
"Mary kept telling me that we needed to help this woman," Ruppersberger said. "Mary was the kind of person who would roll up her sleeves and help."
Widerman said it was Harvey's smile and attitude and concern for others that played a part in her decision to join the Office of Community Conservation in 2000. She worked with Harvey and a small staff of about 20 people.
"From the day I met her there was just an aura around her," Widerman said. "When she walked in a room you could just feel the surge.
"We did the work of 100 people," said Widerman, adding that Harvey frequently set the example.
"Nothing was beneath her," said Widerman. "If a woman in a homeless shelter needed a ride to a doctor's appointment or a job interview, she would try to take them," Widerman said. "If she saw people had hope and they wanted to better themselves she would go out of her way to help, some times at her own personal expense."
Widerman worked with Harvey until 2010—the same year County Executive Kevin Kamenetz consolidated the into the Department of Planning.
Harvey retired at that time. She received a during her final County Council meeting in December 2010.
Harvey is survived by her husband of 15 years, John "Jack" Harvey; stepsons, Aaric Harvey and Richard Harvey; stepdaughters, Melinda Stout, and Evann Harvey; her mother, Veronica Derda; two brothers, Mark Derda and James Derda; two sisters, Veronica Georg and Joan Shaull; seven step-grandchildren; and four step-great-grandchildren.