Mary Ellen and Chuck Doyle are citizens of Galveston County and Texas City in the truest sense of the word: infused with civic spirit, endowed with a sense of responsibility for their chosen home and bound to the place they love both physically and spiritually.
“It’s been our permanent residence for 60 years,” Mary Ellen said.
She and Chuck, married just a little longer than they’ve lived in Texas City, sat at the kitchen table at their house on Lake Moses, a warm and open space with blue walls and blue views out across the water. They love the lake house, though Mary Ellen said she’s only slept there once. It is the receptacle of keepsakes and memorabilia of their long lives together, invested foremost in family, faith and community.
There is likely no one in Texas City who doesn’t know of the Doyles, if they don’t know them personally, that is.
“They’ve gone to everybody’s wedding in this town,” said George Fuller, Texas City’s director of community development who worked for the city when Chuck Doyle was mayor for a decade, starting in 1990, and now works under the second Mayor Doyle, Mary Ellen and Chuck’s son, Matt.
“They know everybody’s name, whether it’s a grandchild or a grandmother,” Fuller said. “If you look under public service or community service, you’ll see Mr. and Mrs. Doyle.”
Ask the Doyles and they will tell you it has been their privilege as well as their life’s work to serve Texas City for so long, in so many ways.
For their recent financial commitment to The Salvation Army and for their decades-long commitment to the people and organizations of Texas City and beyond, The Daily News has named Mary Ellen and Chuck Doyle as its Citizens of the Year for 2019.
Both hailed originally from Oklahoma, he from Mangum, where his family owned and ran the brick plant, she from Bartlesville, home of Phillips 66 where her father was one of the first employees of Mr. Phillips.
They met at the University of Oklahoma. Chuck was studying management and economics and Mary Ellen was a journalism major.
“What activated me in community service and public life was Mary Ellen,” Chuck said, reaching across the table to lay his hand across hers. Mary Ellen was involved in service organizations on campus and seemed to have a hand in everything.
“You name it, Mary Ellen was in it,” he said. “She was fancy in my eyes.”
Bedazzled, Chuck asked Mary Ellen to marry him and took his first job out of college with Union Carbide in Texas City before spending a few years in Kentucky and Germany fulfilling his military obligation.
She knew the Houston-Galveston area, where her dad had built a Phillips plant in Pasadena, and wanted to live on the Gulf Coast. So following a stint with the Army, where young Chuck served in the same unit in Germany as young Elvis Presley, it was back to Texas City where the couple became parents to five children, four sons and a daughter.
The family has remained close in proximity and, more importantly, close at heart, bonded by the family business, Texas First Bank, by a legacy of leadership and community service and by a strong foundation of service and love.
“Everybody has a number in our family,” Chuck said, then gestured toward Mary Ellen. “She’s number one.”
A wedding this summer will bring the number of parents, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the family to 41.
Chuck worked for Carbide until 1969, then in investments in Houston and Galveston, for the Moody Foundation, until finally opening his first community bank in Hitchcock in 1973, the seed of Texas First Bank, now with branches in Galveston, Brazoria, Chambers, Harris, Jefferson and Liberty counties.
Mary Ellen wrote a local interest column for The Texas City Star and The Galveston County Daily News for many years.
As their children grew up, both Mary Ellen and Chuck were more drawn to community service — she as the first woman president of the United Way in Texas City and he as Texas City commissioner from 1964 to 1982, then as mayor from 1990 to 2000.
“Mary Ellen is the spark plug of this partnership,” Chuck said. “When she was president of United Way, she used to go in the plants and ask them to give.”
As mayor, Chuck did the same thing, asking industry to contribute to the well-being of a city in need of improvements. He created Goals 2000, a campaign that resulted in $100 million in city improvements and brought national recognition when Texas City was named All-America City finalist in 1995 and ’96 and finally received the title in ’97.
‘TWO LITTLE OKIES IN HIGH COTTON’
His banks growing and successful — Chuck had been named Texas Banker of the year in 1987 — the Doyles enjoyed some 20 years of national and international travel when he joined the board of directors of Visa Inc., Visa USA, Visa International and Inovant.
“They didn’t pay you with a salary,” Chuck said. “The reward was getting to go to meetings in nice places.”
The couple traveled to the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, among other places, courtesy of Visa, enjoying time together while Chuck preached the gospel of community banking around the world.
“We were two little Okies in high cotton,” Mary Ellen said.
“Mary Ellen’s charming attributes were at play,” Chuck said. “She charmed the whole world.”
Chuck’s banks thrived and still do, in part because of his fervent belief in community banking as the pillar of a community, granting loans to small businesses so that they can then give back.
Chuck’s climb to prominence in the banking world continued. He served as the first community banker on the Federal Advisory Committee to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C., while still mayor of Texas City, and went on to serve for six years as director of the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas.
At home, it was all about improving the city they loved.
A firm believer that public employees would do better work if they worked in better facilities, Chuck was responsible for building new fire and police stations in the city.
Under his administration, the central corridor of the city was beautified with landscaping, trees and antique-looking street lamps. He oversaw the building of parks along the water and a network of hiking and biking trails.
And he brought public art to Texas City in the form of bronze statuary. Everywhere.
“He was big on planting trees, big on history and not making the same mistakes from the past, and he was big on aesthetics,” Fuller said. “He always said, ‘You’ve got to look good to feel good.’ He did it all for his love of the city.”
Among the Doyles’ favorite projects completed under Chuck’s watch was Memorial Park on north Loop 197, where the bodies of 63 firefighters killed in the infamous 1947 explosion are buried. Chuck and Mary Ellen were determined that the park be a quiet and beautiful place where people could visit, honor the dead and sit quietly and contemplate their own lives.
They commissioned a sculptor to build a stone angel fountain in the center, surrounded by benches and tasteful landscaping. This year, on April 19, the community will make a pilgrimage from downtown out to the park in honor of the 63 who died 72 years ago in the worst industrial accident in American history, killing nearly 600 people and injuring thousands.
‘YOU SMILED ON ME’
There is no area of public life in Texas City untouched by the Doyles.
They have been champions of education, involved in College of the Mainland since its inception and establishing a scholarship there, and working with the Texas City Independent School District’s educational foundation. Mary Ellen sat on the board of the foundation and Chuck developed its signature leadership program that brings together 200 students from area school districts and Catholic schools each year to learn leadership skills.
In recent years, they turned attention to their church, St. Mary of the Miraculous Medal, and helped raise money to bring the school and church together on one campus, now a visual centerpiece of the city.
“If not for Chuck and Mary Ellen, we would never have built the new church,” Jose Boix said. Boix has known the Doyles since the 1960s, as a friend and fellow Catholic and at the educational foundation.
“I told Chuck we should change the name of the church to St. Charles,” Boix said. “It was a joke, but seriously, the church is debt-free because of them.”
Two years ago, when The Salvation Army in Texas City was raising $3.4 million to rebuild its offices that burned to the ground in 2012, the Doyles donated $100,000, leading the way for other philanthropists and companies to do the same.
This year, they made a donation of more than $255,000 to the effort.
Through it all, they remain a couple that holds hands, shares kisses and declares affection openly and frequently.
“Chuck married me because I was Catholic,” Mary Ellen said.
“And because you had good teeth,” he said, laughing.
“He’s a good person,” Mary Ellen said. “He sees the good in almost everybody. God smiled on him.”
“No,” Chuck said, covering her hand with his.
“You smiled on me.”