Skip to main content

View more from News & Articles or Primerus Weekly

Chair of PDI Convocation relished the opportunity to reconnect again

Mary Strauss

By Brian Cox

There is a singular moment during the Primerus Defense Institute Convocation earlier this month that stands out in the mind of Texas attorney Mary Strauss, who chaired the executive committee that organized the annual event – the first in-person PDI conference since 2019.

It was after dinner Friday night and she was sitting in the main ballroom talking with the next day’s guest speaker, Judy Bodenhamer, when the pair noticed that despite the hour and the bar being closed, the tables remained full with people conversing.

“It was random groups that were clearly enjoying each other’s company and fresh conversation,” says Strauss, who was the master of ceremonies for the weekend. “Even though the bar was already closed, people weren’t ready to leave. The program for the evening was over, but they were still enjoying the opportunity to socialize.”

Everyone had missed seeing each other over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were glad to be reconnecting face-to-face again.

“Primerus has done a great job of coordinating different Zoom events as a means of people staying in touch,” says Strauss, “but I think everyone was so happy to be back in person.”

The Convocation this year was held May 11-15 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., and had about 75 attendees. The annual event is an opportunity to network with Primerus members and clients while earning continuing education credits. Programming topics included “Employment and Marijuana,” “What Inside Counsel Want in Outside Counsel,” “Coverage and Climate Changes,” “Recruiting and Maintaining the Workforce,” and “Nuclear Verdicts.”

Strauss says the programming from year to year is determined in part by guidance from the Client Advisory Board, which is asked about what legal trends it is seeing and what issues it would like to learn more about.

The Convocation kicked off Thursday afternoon with an opportunity for attendees to give a helping hand to a worthwhile charity. Primerus partnered with Blessings in a Backpack, an organization that provides food on the weekends for elementary school children across America who might otherwise go hungry. Attorneys packed backpacks with food items and encouraging notes for the children.

“This was a great opportunity,” says Strauss. “I think everyone who participated had a great time and it was a neat cause.”

In addition to hearing from thought leaders, experienced insurance coverage and defense attorneys, and in-house counsel concerning challenges facing companies in today’s marketplace, attendees had opportunities to engage in experiential activities as well. Participants could take a guided hike of the Garden of the Gods, a National Natural Landmark featuring towering sandstone rock formations. They could play golf or take a fly-fishing lesson or go ziplining over Seven Falls, a series of cascading waterfalls on South Cheyenne Creek.

“Sheila Buchanan does an outstanding job of finding locations for the Convocation every year and researching what’s available that is unique to whatever city we’re going to,” says Strauss. “You tend to bond with whoever you’ve gone on one of these leisure activities with, and I know that all of those zipliners definitely fostered a stronger relationship,” she adds with a laugh.

This was the 15th year of the Convocation, and Strauss has attended 13 of those events.

“Once I get the [Convocation] date, my vacation letter is filed with the court because this is an event I don’t want to miss,” says Strauss.

She describes Primerus members as an easy group to work with, always willing to share their information, their time, and their expertise.

“I can tell you that any single person that’s part of the Primerus organization, you can pick up the phone and they will always take your call and be supportive and helpful and give you their thoughts and impressions,” she says.

Born in Cleveland and the oldest of three children, Strauss moved to Texas as a young girl when the Army re-stationed her father Tom to Ft. Hood, the third largest military base in the world. Strauss says she knows she gets her organizational skills from her military father, but she learned important communication skills from her mom, JoAnn.

“Mom was a good example of how to communicate and how to work with other people,” she says. “She has a great way of speaking and finding something in common with everybody.”

Strauss says she knew she wanted to be a lawyer since the 6th grade when an English teacher organized mock trials on Fridays and all the students got to serve as jurors. Strauss thought, “This is interesting. I can do this.”

She studied elementary education at the University of Texas at Austin, which she says has proved valuable in her legal career with jury selection and conveying information to a jury.

“Just because you are maybe 48 and not 8 doesn’t mean you learn differently,” says Strauss. “We’re all auditory, visual or tactile learners so I always try to incorporate all three when I’m in front of a jury.”

After graduating from St. Mary’s University School of Law in 1998, Strauss joined the law firm Thornton, Biechlin, Reynolds & Guerra L.C. in San Antonio, where she has remained. The 25-lawyer firm has four offices and has been in Texas more than 50 years.

“I have been blessed by the fact that some of the original folks that started at the firm are now some of the senior partners,” says Strauss. “They have a wealth of information and talents that they continue to share.”

Strauss met her future husband on her first day at the firm, where she’d been hired to fill his old position. She and Sean Page have been married 21 years and have traveled much of the world together, including the chance to hike the Machu Picchu mountain range in southern Peru.

“It’s a big, cool, awesome world,” says Strauss, “and we’ve been fortunate to go to a lot of places.”

Italy is among their favorite destinations as is Chile, and she hopes in the next few years to visit Slovenia, which is where her family is largely from. Australia and Fiji also are on the “must-go” list.

“We do a lot of walking on our trips and a lot of eating,” says Strauss, “and then that all cancels each other out and we haven’t gained 10 pounds on vacation.”

In addition to enjoying travel, Strauss is an enthusiastic cook and baker. She says she has loved to cook since her Easy-Bake Oven days. Cookbooks line a shelf in her home office.

“For me, cooking is how I feel successful,” she says. “You could have had a terrible day, lost a motion, had your best client yell at you, but Sean has had some of the best dinners after days like that because at the end of the day I can say I did something successfully today.”

Pink Chocolate Chip Cookies are a go-to treat to welcome a new neighbor. Pasta Pepperoni and No Cough Cornbread also are among her favorite creations.

“If you’re invited over here for a meal, you’re getting the whole spread,” says Strauss. “I don’t need you to bring anything.”

Strauss will happily share any of her recipes with whomever may ask – except for two: Grandma Pfeiffer’s Chocolate Cake and her Crumb-Top Pie.

Those two acts of baking magic, she says, will remain a well-guarded secret.