‘Queen of Siding’ puts technical mind, meticulous nature to work as Habitat for Humanity volunteer

Published on Wednesday, 1 June 2016 11:38 - Written by EMILY GUEVARA, eguevara@tylerpaper.com

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Shouts pierced the air as Mary Hamlin signaled the Habitat for Humanity volunteer to stop. He was cutting cement board siding incorrectly, and she wanted to show him how to do it properly.

“I want you to lightly push down, very lightly,” she said, instructing a young man, probably a third her age, on how to use cement siding shears. “You’re way up.”

Her perfectionism, while potentially annoying to some, is rooted in a desire to build a quality house.

“The kind of siding that they put up that day is what’s still (going to) be there 50 years from now,” she said. “They need to leave a legacy of what they want that house to look like.”

For 16 years, Ms. Hamlin, 69, has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity of Smith County.

Her presence on construction sites and her skill in installing siding has become so appreciated that regular volunteers dubbed her “Mary, Queen of Siding.”

Ms. Hamlin brushes off the praise, turning the focus back to the organization and the many other volunteers.

Still, her technical mind and meticulous nature are gifts, honed by 27 years in the Air Force.

After graduating from Mount Pleasant High School in 1964, Ms. Hamlin worked her way through college - earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry.

As an undergraduate, she participated in Angel Flight, a service organization connected with the ROTC.

That experience sparked her interest in the Air Force, and after graduate school, she joined.

She attended officer training school followed by specialty training in avionics, and for the next 27 years, she moved around the world with assignments in North Carolina, California, Korea, Japan, Oklahoma, Texas and Alabama.

As an officer she worked primarily as a supervisor, managing project schedules and overseeing job assignments and work quality. During her career, she also commanded two squadrons.

After retiring as a colonel in 1998, she moved to Tyler where her brother lives.

Two years later, she started volunteering with Habitat, and a few years after that, she began working on the siding crew, because she could measure and mark accurately.

When the siding leader stopped volunteering because of a job conflict, Ms. Hamlin inherited the role and thrived.

“Everybody has their niche and some people are more gifted at things than others,” Habitat’s senior construction supervisor Steve Pep said. “She’s very mechanically inclined, and she loves people.”

Ms. Hamlin’s attention to detail is rooted a bit in the idea of the golden rule.

“I’m always afraid that when I get to heaven, the Lord will give me the same kind of house I built for someone else,” she said. “And, by golly, I want that house to look good.”

Twitter: @TMTEmily