Mary Lynn Harvey, former director of the Baltimore County Office of Community Conservation who had led a wide array of efforts to preserve and improve communities, died Aug. 26 of colon cancer at Gilchrist Hospice in Towson.
The Perry Hall resident was 54.
"What a woman. Mary Harvey was one of the most valuable people in my administration. She understood my renaissance program for Baltimore County, which was about improved neighborhood housing and infrastructure," said James T. Smith, former Baltimore County executive, who is now an attorney in Towson.
"She helped make it happen, and she realized that it was also about people and she understood their needs," said Mr. Smith. "Mary understood the concerns and needs of people, and she knew she could make a difference in their lives. She knew it really was all about people."
The former Mary Lynn Derda was born in Baltimore and raised in Perry Hall. She was a 1976 graduate of Perry Hall High School, and graduated in 1986 from the Community College of Baltimore County in Dundalk. Earlier, she had attended the Community College of Baltimore County in Essex.
Ms. Harvey became active in eastern Baltimore County Democratic politics and worked for eight years as a legislative aide to the County Council.
In 1994, then-Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger appointed Ms. Harvey to the position of eastern sector coordinator with the newly created Office of Community Conservation.
She was named manager in 1999 of revitalization programs, and the next year became director of the Baltimore County Office of Community Conservation.
In 2002, Mr. Smith reappointed her to the position, which she held until 2010, when she was diagnosed with the illness that ended her life.
During the administrations of Mr. Ruppersberger and Mr. Smith, Ms. Harvey headed efforts that preserved and improved communities. New planning ideas she embraced in Dundalk resulted in the establishment of the county's first Urban Design Assistance Team. Later, the UDAT planning approach was replicated in Randallstown, Essex-Middle River and Towson.
While pushing to implement the plans, she helped establish new community centers in Randallstown, Dundalk and Turners Station.
Ms. Harvey worked closely with government and private-sector partners to spur new housing, including east-side Baltimore County projects at Renaissance Square and Cove Point. Other projects included a supportive housing development in Arbutus, as well as affordable homes at Weinberg Village and the Greens at Liberty Road.
In Towson, she led the way in revitalizing housing in the historic African-American neighborhood that lies east of York Road and was established by freed slaves. Included in the project was the restoration of Jacob House, a 19th-century log cabin that had originally been built for Sarah Jane Johnson, a former slave.
"She believed in the finer points of community and urban design, supporting streetscapes and other projects that made places more workable, interesting and attractive to visitors," said Jay Doyle, a co-worker and longtime friend. "She was adamant that communities should aspire to reach new heights."
"Mary played an essential role in whatever success I may have had," said Mr. Smith, a partner in the Towson law firm of Smith, Gildea & Schmidt. "There was no one more compassionate or passionate than Mary Harvey. She will be missed. I know I will miss her."
"She was always in motion and was a real people person. She cared about people as much as anyone I've ever met in my life," said Mr. Doyle. "She was a tireless advocate for the homeless as an individual volunteer and as an agency leader. She cooked meals, delved into occasional casework and answered many calls to fix problems.
"She was dedicated and put in long, hard hours because the work was so challenging," he said. "She had lots of courage and conviction."
One of the last things Ms. Harvey accomplished before retirement was championing the development of a 10-year plan to end homelessness.
After Ms. Harvey retired, her former department's work was divided and merged into the Baltimore County Department of Planning, Public Works and Social Services.
Her work brought her recognition, and in 1995 she was the Baltimore County Commission for Women's Woman of the Year. She received the Renaissance Milestone Award from the Dundalk Renaissance Corp. in 2010.
She had been a member of the boards of the Essex Community College Foundation, Essex-Middle River-White Marsh Chamber of Commerce and the Family Crisis Center of Baltimore County.
Ms. Harvey had also been an instructor for the Dale Carnegie Training Systems for more than a decade.
She enjoyed traveling and playing golf at Cacapon State Park in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., where she maintained a second home.
Ms. Harvey was a member of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church, 10 Lexington Road, Bel Air, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Surviving are her husband of 15 years, Jack Harvey, a biologist; two stepsons, Aaric Harvey of Bel Air and Richard Harvey of Charlestown; two stepdaughters, Melinda Stout of Lewisville, Texas, and Evann Harvey of New Castle, Del.; her mother, Veronica Derda of Baltimore; two brothers, Mark Derda of Baltimore and James Derda of Burlington, Vt.; two sisters, Veronica Georg of Bel Air and Joan Shaull of Baltimore; seven step-grandchildren; and four step-great-grandchildren.