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Obituary: Mary Harvey

The former county department head is remembered for her smile, tenacity and staunch advocacy for the homeless and underprivileged.

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.

Harvey, a Perry Hall resident, died at in Towson. She was 54. She'll be remembered during a service at 11 a.m. Sept. 5 at Christ Our King Church, 10 Lexington Road in Bel Air.

"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.

EAdams September 05, 2012 at 09:59 AM
Mary was the heart and soul of Baltimore County. She always did every thing she could to help those that needed it the most,,, always with a smile,, never slowing down. . I/We miss her very much. My thoughts and prayers go out to Jack and the family . Ed Adams BCO DPW
David Marks September 05, 2012 at 10:35 AM
Mary was a kind and pioneering woman who was respected by people on both sides of the political divide. My prayers to her family.
Kelli Nelson September 05, 2012 at 11:27 AM
What a tremendous lady! Baltimore County has lost a true treasure and humanitarian!
Dawn Donovan September 05, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Mary was a part of the Woman's Club of Perry Hall. Along with other members, she helped establish a connection with Eastern Regional Family Shelter. For the past 2 years we have been serving dinner once a month. We will miss her spirit.
Rebecca Linthicum September 05, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Mary Harvey was a fantastic role model for all women. She was professional, charismatic, kind, and intelligent. She was my hero.
Bill Jones September 05, 2012 at 07:35 PM
A lovely service today for a lovely woman. It was truly a pleasure to have worked with her. Bill Jones
Bon September 05, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Mary will be missed by many. Nobody will ever be able to do what Mary did for Balto Co.Mary treated everbody she met like they were her family. I know she helped my elderly parents during Isabelle,as well as many others.If she could not answer a question you asked,she would make sure she found the answer for you. Mary loved her family very much, my heart goes out to them for their lose,but she will always be with them in spirit.Jack and the family are in our prayers. God Bless You.
Teresa A. Streb September 06, 2012 at 02:41 AM
I am saddened to read that Mary has lost her brave battle. I loved Mary from the first day I met her. I was working as a Legislative Aide to Councilman Joe Bartenfelder, and I always admired her spunk! Baltimore County will never be the same without the hard work and endless energy of both Mary Harvy and PJ. Widerman, ( I was honored to volunteer alongside PJ on the BC Police Athletic League)...Those were the days when true devotion to serving the public was all that mattered. No one cared which side of the political fence you were on, if you needed help, they stood ready to serve you. Amen to a special lady and all the wonderful things she did for Baltimore County. You will be sorely missed. I know there's a special home waiting for you in Heaven.
Joan Shaull September 06, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Thank you so much for this wonderful comments and all the loving comments that people have left. It's so hard to read and talk about Mary in the past tense. She didn't talk about herself all that much so we her family didn't know the half of what she did for people! -- from Mary's sister, Joan Shaull
Tasha Rigdon September 06, 2012 at 01:59 PM
I didn't know her personally but she was the mother-in-law of one of my co-worker's. When she would talk about her it was in the highest love available!!! From what she has said she es a great person and mother-in-law. So sorry for the loss of someone so special.
Keith Biddle September 06, 2012 at 05:21 PM
I went to school with Mary from 6th grade on. She was the sweetest person you could ever imagine. Had a crush on her for years to be honest LOL. Always smiling. So sorry to hear this.
Anna Renault September 07, 2012 at 02:29 AM
WOW! Mary will be sorely missed. If I remember correctly she had retired but she was still involved everywhere... her shoes will be EXTREMELY hard to fill. R.I.P. Mary!
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Beautiful woman
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Shelia Victoria Boller January 02, 2013 at 04:32 AM
I had the privilege of knowing Mary on several different levels. One of which was the common intrest of the homelessness and other related concerns in our communities. Mary always took an intrest in others concerns, and was always eager to help where ever she could. I was able to attend some events that were arranged to honor her. Mary was always very greatful and humble. I was so blessd to have Mary speak at one of my Women of Worth meetings and to share her expertise with our group. Only wish we had more time together, although I believe what she did while she was here will continue to make a difference in our communities far into the future for many others. My sincere condolences to her family, which was her # 1 priority as evidence of what she did. Mary will be missed and always remembered. Very Sincerely, Shelia Boller (www.womenofworth-wow.org)
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