ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – After 21 years serving Abilene as the director of 21 Texas, Mary Cooksey is retiring. Members of the Abilene community gathered at her retirement ceremony Thursday at the Grace Museum to honor and celebrate her successful career.

As Mary Cooksey walked through the Grace Museum ballroom doors, she was hit with a rush of emotions. Fighting back tears, Cooksey looked through her past awards and accolades that were laid out on tables lining the back wall.

“This must be for somebody else, this can’t be for me,” Cooksey said. “It’s overwhelming and it is humbling.” 

She walked the room, soaking up the lights, the balloons and giant light-up letters that spelled “congrats.” When she looked up, images of her career, family and favorite work-related memories played on a slideshow for all to see.

Many chapters of Cooksey’s life seemingly turned, as a new picture became the focal point on the pull-down screens. But tonight, her latest chapter was going to be written.

After serving Abilene as the director of 211 Texas for 21 years, being the first executive director of the NCCIL and even working as a creative producer for KRBC, Cooksey decided it is time to retire.

“I feel like a parent sending their child off to university,” Cooksey said. “Yes, it’s time for you to go, but I’ve still got so much to teach you.” 

She has impacted hundreds across the Big Country, helping them find the necessary resources for any difficult situation they may be facing. She found her true love and passion for the people of the Big Country.

But not only the Big Country was impacted by Cooksey’s legacy, as she was also at the forefront helping direct resources from Abilene to the Gulf Coast when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017.

One of the most humble, genuine people in the City of Abilene, Cooksey acknowledged the awards she has received for her community involvement, taking great pride in each and every one of them.

However, in front of hundreds of Abilenians, Cooksey received maybe the greatest honor of her career from Mayor Anthony Williams: From now on, January 27 will hereby be “Mary Cooksey Day” in Abilene.

Mary Cooksey’s legacy in the Abilene community will never be forgotten, especially by those directly impacted by her work. However, as many hearts as she has touched, she said it was Abilene that changed her life forever.

“Abilene adopted me and has made me the most treasured child that one could ever hope to be, and I hope that I have done her justice,” Cooksey said.

But, in Mary Cooksey fashion, she wanted to leave the way she started her career, by giving the community one last piece of wisdom to carry that legacy on:

“Never stop looking for ways to be of service to someone else, that’s where the true gifts come from,” Cooksey said.

She said even in retirement, that love for Abilene and the community will always remain strong, even if her role looks a little different.

Cooksey said she is looking forward to her retirement and being able to sleep in and not set an early alarm clock, as well as just “letting the good times roll.”