|On Thursday, Governor Greg Abbott inducted former Denton County Judge Mary Horn into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame. The dinner celebrating the new inductees was held in Austin, Texas, with Texas Woman’s University (TWU) serving as home to the Hall of Fame
Mary was born and raised in Owatonna, Minnesota, but you would be hard-pressed to find anyone more Texan than Mary. She moved to Texas at age 18, settling first in Dallas and then in Denton after marrying former State Representative Jim Horn in 1967. Mary fell in love with Denton and Denton fell in love with her.Mary was the matriarch of Denton for several decades. This community grew up under her leadership. She was a friend to everyone, a strong leader and a true Texas legend and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this honor.
Mary started her career as a Braniff Airlines flight attendant and was promoted through the ranks from 1965 – 1982, and when she took maternity leave for her children, she was replaced by two men to complete her same workload.
“My mother was a trailblazer her entire life though she never thought of it that way. She just put her head down and worked hard. She believed in giving her all to her community and in exchange, the people of Denton gave her a tremendous amount of joy in her work,” her daughter, Jennifer Horn Stevens, shared.
Prior to serving in elected office, Mary worked for Braniff Airlines and then ran her own small business.
Mary and Jim were both civic-minded and began pouring themselves into state and national Republican politics shortly after arriving in Denton. In 1972, at their kitchen table, the couple started the Republican Party in Denton County.
Mary supported her husband, Jim, in his election as the first Republican in Denton County since Reconstruction. It took three elections before Jim won but Mary’s support never wavered. In fact, Mary never wavered on anything; campaigning in the cold until she got frostbite on her hands on a particularly cold January evening. Jim served as the State Representative in District 64 for 18 years.
Mary began her own political career as the first woman to be elected to the Denton County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office on Jan. 1, 1993, serving for 9 ½ years. In 1999, Mary was nominated as Texas Tax Assessor-Collector of the Year. In 2002, she was elected as the first woman County Judge in Denton County history, serving citizens until Jan. 1, 2019, as she completed her tenure as the only female and longest-serving Denton County Judge. Her parting advice to incoming County Judge Andy Eads was typical, to the point, and insightful, “stick to your guns.”
Mary oversaw significant milestones as the county experienced phenomenal growth. Among her most prized accomplishments – being a good steward of Denton County residents’ tax dollars. Mary strongly believed in running a fiscally conservative operation while providing quality services to Denton County residents. Mary modernized the tax office and increased efficiencies. She also went to Austin and was the force behind the state law that enabled vehicle registration online or at grocery stores to make it easier for residents.
During her time as Tax Assessor-Collector, she wrote and testified in support of nine state tax laws. After her appointment on June 11, 2002, as County Judge, her first major task was to increase budget reserves, which went a long way to establishing the county’s ongoing AAA bond rating.
She spearheaded two road bond packages overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2004 and 2008, leveraging $335 million in local funds to bring over $3 billion in road improvements and improved or new county buildings. Mary did this against the will of the Denton County Republican Executive Committee who voted almost unanimously against expanding I-35. But that was Mary. If it was the right thing to do, she didn’t care what the pressures were, she was going to do it.
As her term was ending, every state and federal highway in Denton County had been widened or was funded and in development to be widened. In 2008 Judge Horn received the Texas Department of Transportation “Road Hand Award” for her incredible work developing infrastructure throughout North Texas.
Judge Horn expanded or improved county buildings including the Loop 288 Administrative Complex, the District Attorney Annex, the County Government Centers at Carrollton, Cross Roads, and Frisco, and the Southwest Courthouse, the Charlie Cole Building, the Denton Courts Building, the County Law Enforcement facilities, Road & Bridge East and West facilities, and the Lee Walker Government Center Buildings.
She envisioned the new Denton County Administrative Courthouse in the early to mid-2000s, working tirelessly to advocate for voter-approved dollars to build a courthouse worthy of generations to come, much like the historic 1896 Courthouse-on-the-Square has proven to be, she noted in a letter written for a time capsule for the new Denton County Administrative Courthouse.
Through her tenure in County service, Mary served on 20 various boards and committees including the Texas Association of Counties, National Association of Counties, Denton Emergency Planning Advisory Council, Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition, County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, Elections Commission, Community Justice Council, Salary Grievance Board, Investment Evaluation Committee, Denton County Courts Building Operations Plan Committee, Courthouse-on-the Square Preservation Grant Committee, Contract Oversight Committee, Transportation Committee, Denton County Juvenile Board, Capital Improvement Committee, Denton County Building and Property Committee, Records Management Disaster Recovery Committee, Child Protective Services Board, Civil Service Commission, Vice Chair of the Texas Workforce Development Board, and Public Employee Benefits Cooperative.
Mary saw a 65 percent increase in population during her term and, as her term was ending, the county roster had grown to 1,700 employees working in 40 buildings to provide services.
Mary not only founded but also built the Republican Party in Denton. She was the 1988 Texas Federation of Republican Women Honoree and served as President of the Denton Republican Women’s Club in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1999-2000, and 2018-2019.
In her final column, published in the Denton Record-Chronicle, she wrote: “There is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that I worked side by side with many great employees to lay the foundation for what is to come. I would not trade these past 26 years for anything. Thank you to the many elected officials, employees and residents who made it a memorable ride.”
At the event hosted by the Office of the Governor and First Lady Cecilia Abbott, three women from Denton County were a significant part of the event – Judge Horn, Lavinia Masters, both honorees, and The Honorable Jane Nelson, Texas Secretary of State, who was among the speakers.
Lavinia Masters, a Lewisville attorney, is the founder of Hope SAVES Sexual Abuse Victim Empowered 2 Speak Ministry who also recently had a bill named after her. She was honored for her advocacy and community service – in recognition of her selflessness and strength, building on her faith and finding the power of her voice to speak for survivors of sexual violence, to raise awareness of a nationwide rape kit backlog, and to bring justice through legislative action.
Joining us to recognize these women were the TWU Board of Regents as well as Chancellor and President Carine Feyten, local leaders, and several of our state legislators.
It was truly an honor to be a part of this ceremony and to recognize the efforts of these women who have contributed so much to the betterment of all in Denton County.