Mary Louise Hancock started out as a research librarian in the New Hampshire Office of State Planning (NH/OSP) in 1944. She became the Director of the Office in 1960 and served the State in that position until her retirement in 1976. That's 16 years working her way to director, and 16 years as Director. As planning director, Mary Louise worked closely with cities, towns, and counties, formulating zoning, building and housing codes, land use policies and recreational facilities. She coordinated federal, local and state programs for state parks, historic sites, highway and airway systems, wildland and wetland protection, flood control, and beach erosion. That is just some of what she did at NH/OSP for 32 years, as her "day job".
When Hancock started out, she was the only woman to head a major state agency. In 1967, she was the only woman in the nation to direct planning for a whole state. Now we have a woman as Governor, and don't think that MLH wasn't involved!
Randall Raymond joined the staff at NH/OSP in 1963 and quickly determined that Mary Louise had mastered the "Byzantine bureaucracy" of state government, as Raymond described. When she needed to get something done, she knew where to turn. "She's an administrative genius," said Raymond, who used to marvel at Mary Louise's knack for digging up information. He used to wonder, "How is it that Mary Louise knows everything a few days before the governor?"
During her years in the planning department, she tried to protect natural resources and help cities and towns plan for growth. She was instrumental in acquiring land for the the state park system, including the Odirone State Park, the only state park on the Seacoast. Along with Russell Tobey, who headed the state park system, she stopped the interstate highway from cutting through the state park at Franconia Notch. "She's had a very great deal to do with most of the environmental legislation that's on the books," said Jean Hennessey, her friend from Hanover.
Tom Duffy a long term OSP staffer says, "MLH hired me into the office over 28 years ago. I remembered how delighted I was when it happened. A job in my field of training, a job in my home town. Obviously, I stayed for the long haul. I'm so glad Mary Louise thought I could contribute to the office. Like life in general, this job is a challenge and provided some fun. It also provided frustration and a bit of pain. Working for the State of NH means a constant state of marginal support and funding; but I was prepared for that - I attended Catholic schools. It has been interesting to watch the State of NH catch up (too late?) with Mary Louise. In the 1950's, she proposed a conservation strip up the Merrimack Valley. A group proposed the same thing in the '80's. Then the State finally got something done with the Land Conservation Investment Program; a program that is administered here at OSP. Now another state funded conservation program has been enacted. It all would have been cheaper, easier and more affective had the powers-that-be listened to a woman ahead of her time."
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable..." That bit of George Bernard Shaw's logic hung on her wall at NH/OSP. Its truth is the way of her life. By being "unreasonable", she has been responsible for much progress in the comfort, beauty, environmental, and economic well-being of New Hampshire.