This article is part of our Remembering Lives Lost project to honor victims in the Houston region whose families have chosen to publicly disclose their cause of death as COVID-19.
From Harris County to Montgomery County, Galveston to Fort Bend, local government officials across the Houston region knew Mary Hammer Menzel.
“She was famous everywhere,” said her husband, Roger Menzel. “There isn’t a county commissioner who didn’t know Mary.”
Menzel, 72, worked as a connector between engineering firms and government officials. She was a people-person who loved her job — and she was a force to be reckoned with.
A striking tall and blond figure, Menzel worked nonstop, her husband said. She might meet someone early for breakfast and stay up past midnight to write thank-yous.
The Houston-area native wanted things done her way. That’s why the nickname “Hammer” — a name from her previous marriage — stuck. “Hey Hammer!” Roger Menzel heard even on out-of-town trips.
Their own marriage reflected her determined nature. As the story goes, when she saw Roger at a Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce breakfast some 30 years ago, Mary declared to a friend, “I’m going to marry him.”
(Gov. Greg Abbott, who has a photo with the couple in the entryway to his office, married them.)
Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle saw Menzel as a woman not to be trifled with. She was feisty, faithful and unafraid to tell people how she felt.
“You knew exactly where you stood,” Cagle said. “If she loved you, she loved you fiercely… If she didn’t like you, well, you better get out of the way.”
Menzel didn’t do things halfway, as Cagle saw it. And she expected the same integrity, honesty and competence from her clients, including civil engineering firm Binkley & Barfield, Inc.
“She was a tenacious business developer who never gave up making contacts and connecting people,” the company wrote in a statement. “She loved what she did, and that’s what made her so successful.”
Everywhere she went, Menzel gave hugs. When she went to see Fort Bend County Commissioner Vincent Morales, she hugged all of his staff.
“She did not know a stranger,” Morales said. “She was a true southern lady and she was one of a kind.”
Menzel was an expert in charming those around her, Galveston County Commissioner Joe Giusti said. If she invited someone to a function — and you would go if she invited you — that person would have a place card at the table with his or her name.
After she contracted the coronavirus and died March 29, Giusti noticed someone remark online that God and Jesus probably now had name tags, too.
“She knew what she was doing,” Giusti said. “Nobody rubbed elbows better than Mary.”