Byers honored for School Board service

January 22, 2001

Byers honored for School Board service

By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

B. Marie ByersWhile B. Marie Byers was busy attending education meetings for the last three decades, her husband, Jack, was left to endure microwaved dinners and fast-food takeouts.


But he knew the endless meetings and mounds of education-related policies and paperwork she would bring home were important to his wife, who served on The Washington County Board of Education for 30 years.

Now that Marie Byers has stepped down from the board, Jack continues to support her nearly lifelong cause. He has contributed $50,000 to set up a fund in her honor, which will distribute grants at her guidance.


The announcement came at a tribute dinner to Marie Byers on Sunday night at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel. About 200 family members, friends and education officials attended.

Washington County Board of Education President J. Herbert Hardin also said a scholarship fund will be set up in her name. It has more than $1,000 in it so far, he said.

Two tables set up in the lobby outside of the Grand Ballroom displayed numerous awards and certificates Marie Byers received over the years. Also included were photos of her encounters with Barbara Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"I just cannot tell you how much it has meant to serve you, in particular the children of Washington County," a teary-eyed Marie Byers said at the close of the event. "I thank you for being my friend and a friend of our children."

Byers decided to step down from the School Board in December. She had served since July 1, 1970. Before that, she taught in the county, beginning her career in 1955. She has also served on various state education panels, and on the National School Board.

Her oldest son, Duane, joked that his mother's relentless support of education was traumatic for his siblings while growing up. He was 12 when his mother first sat on the School Board.

"She turned our house into a document-storage facility," he said. "Every single piece of paper that she ever saw or that was given to her was kept in our house."

He said piles of papers consumed their home and were often stashed in their bedrooms, in the closets and under their beds.

"It was very traumatic for a 12-year-old not to have a bedroom."

He also said he was proud of his mother's dedication to helping children.

"She is a great mother, she is a wonderful grandmother, she is a wonderful, wonderful person, and I thank her," he said. "I am very proud of her community service."

Claud E. Kitchens, former superintendent of Washington County Public Schools for 13 years, said Marie Byers would often come into his office and present him with a list of tasks that needed to be carried out in the school system. He joked that the lists totaled 338 over the 13 years, with 5,760 tasks to be taken care of.

"They were 13 of the happiest years of my career," Kitchens said.

John Davidson, the assistant principal of South Hagerstown High School, taught Marie Byers' children and said Byers always supported the use of technology throughout Washington County Public Schools.

"She's gone above and beyond to promote Washington County, not just on a local level, but on a national level as well," Davidson said.

Ed Root, a member of the state Board of Education, met Marie Byers in 1982. He joked that when a new superintendent was hired in Washington County, she'd give the person three envelopes that were only to be opened during the times of a major crisis.

One time, he said, the superintendent was having an ongoing problem with declining test scores, so he opened the first envelope, which told him to blame his predecessor for the low scores. The problem soon went away.

Another time, the same superintendent was having problems balancing the school system's budget, so he opened the second envelope Marie Byers gave him. It directed him to reorganize, and a short time later the budget woes were resolved.

"Now, you know this is a false story, because Washington County's central office would never reorganize," Root joked.

Yet another time, Root said the superintendent was having problems gaining control of the school system and that teachers, parents and children were unhappy. When the superintendent opened the third envelope, it told him to "prepare three envelopes."

Root went on to thank Marie Byers for her service.

"All children everywhere deserve the very best opportunity that we can provide for them," Marie Byers said to close the event. "Claud Kitchens always had a saying that 'Children deserve the benefits of caring adults everywhere.' That's true."

Shortly before the ceremony, she said that while she has stepped down from the School Board, her desire to help children continues.

"The torch has been passed, but the flame is not yet out."

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