– Highway safety's strongest advocate
Mary Hunter looking forward to dog days of retirement

“As I go to the dogs, I leave behind great people to carry on.  I will still be around, but I am very comfortable in leaving you all to continue the fantastic work you have been doing. Keep up the great work.”

Many people approach retirement with a loose plan to relax, play golf or just do nothing, but not Mary Hunter. When she closes the door on a 28-year career at ITD, she will head to California to pick up a new puppy and add new challenge to the Hunter household.

Hunter really likes dogs. So much so that she planned her retirement around when her new puppy would be born. The puppy has arrived and so has time for that retirement.

Mary Hunter, manager of the Office of Highway Safety, will bring a 28-year career at ITD to a close this week. Co-workers and friends will begin a slow roast in the Headquarters auditorium, from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday (May 19). A formal presentation is planned at 1:30 p.m. and a reception with cake and punch will follow. Mary has been a tireless advocate of highway safety, especially the use of seatbelts throughout her career. She is recognized nationally for building ITD's highway safety program into a national model.

Leaving won’t be easy, because after nearly three decades with ITD she has made many friends in the department, throughout the state and across the nation. Her work at the department has helped save many lives and kept countless families whole.

As highway safety manager, Hunter’s responsibilities included overseeing the behavioral safety program for Idaho, as well as the crash reporting and analysis system. She was responsible for implementing Idaho’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan, founding the department’s successful Law Enforcement Liaison Program and embracing the title of “Seat Belt Queen” while serving as occupant protection program coordinator from 1999 through 2007.

Before working in highway safety, she coordinated the Commercial Drivers License program and also developed and implemented a third-party skills testing program for Idaho’s passenger car drivers.

If those accomplishments are not enough, she’s also competed successfully in canine agility trials and other competitions with her dogs Rosie, Dani and Katie (who died last year). She has taught agility since 1999, “initially for the Capital City Kennel Club and Boise Agility Runners & Climbers, and then for my own business, Dogs A’ Flying, since 2001,” she says on her website www.dogsaflying.com .

Hunter’s career started with the state of Idaho in 1977 when she worked on a research project in McCall tracking western spruce budworms in grand fir trees.

From there it was on to the Idaho Department of Lands for work on another research project using satellite photographs to inventory timber volumes. She started working in the office but then moved to fieldwork.

“My partner couldn’t stand me because I didn’t know tree or plant species,” she admitted. Her degree was in microbiology with a minor in chemistry. “We did become very good friends.”

Later, she was hired as Idaho’s first female forest technician and was based out of Priest Lake where she learned how to plan timber sales, plant trees and work at other forest-related activities.

About that time, Hunter acquired her first dog.

“Sparky came from a box of puppies outside the Priest River grocery store,” she said.

And, at about that time, she decided there was no future forestry. So, it was time to start over in 1981.

Fate may have played a hand in Hunter’s decision to start over in Boise because an unanticipated stock windfall provided her just enough money to move her singlewide trailer to Boise where she found herself still working for the Department of Lands.

“In 1983, ITD was hiring clerical specialists in Commercial Vehicle Licensing,” she recalled. “I interviewed at 8 a.m. one Monday morning and was hired by 10 a.m.”

After a year of licensing trucks, Hunter was selected to be correspondence unit supervisor in Motor Vehicle Titles. There, she supervised a unit handling 1,000 calls per week, did “a lot of motor vehicle research” and developed the odometer fraud process that ITD still uses today.

Hunter helped establish the Commercial Drivers License (CDL) program in 1990 and ended up as CDL coordinator. During that time, she put together the Class D Third-Party skills testing program in 3 1/2 months.

In 1999, Hunter joined the Highway Safety Office as a grants officer. She became highway safety manager in 2007.

“I have always been a safety advocate, starting in the CDL job,” she said. Her mother died in a car crash in 1996 after falling asleep while driving, and that memory remains.

“It helped me convey the family aspect of a loved one lost in a car crash,” she explained. “I never forgot the feeling.”

“The accomplishments I will be most proud of playing a role in are the LEL Program, Idaho’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan, reducing unbelted traffic deaths from 183 in 1999 to 73 in 2010 and reducing traffic deaths from 278 in 1999 to 209 in 2010,” she said. “These aren’t just numbers, they are families.”

“It has been a privilege to have the Highway Safety Manager job and working with so many great partners through the years.  I used to say I was proud to be the only ‘Seat Belt Queen in Idaho.’  And the same is true of manager,” she said.  “As I go to the dogs, I leave behind great people to carry on.  I will still be around, but I am very comfortable in leaving you all to continue the fantastic work you have been doing. Keep up the great work.”

Besides, training that new puppy is going to take some serious time and attention.

Published 5-13-2011