By Carla Branch
Alexandrianews.org has selected Rosa E. Byrd as the 2014 Alexandrian of the Year.
“alexandrianews.org selects volunteers who give of themselves in a variety of ways over a long period of time to make our city a better place to live as Alexandrians of the Year,” said alexandrianews.org Board Chair Melvin Miller. “Rosa Byrd has lived and worked in Alexandria for more than 50 years and she continues to volunteer her time as an elections official, a member of the Lynhaven Civic Association and as a member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Departmental Progressive Club. Alexandrianews.org is proud to select her as our 2014 Alexandrian of the Year.”
Rosa was born in Logan County, West Virginia, the daughter of a coal miner. “I grew up knowing all about John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers and strikes,” Rosa said. “When I was in the fourth grade, my father decided to move the family to Halifax, Virginia, because farming was better for us. We didn’t have to wory about mine strikes anymore.”
In Halifax, Rosa met and fell in love with Jack Byrd, Jr. They got married in 1961 and Rosa moved to the DC Metropolitan area.
“Jack had a job here so we moved,” Rosa said. “We lived in DC for a while and then moved to Del Ray. We bought our house in Lynhaven in the 1960s and have lived there ever since.”
Shortly after moving to Lynhaven, Rosa met Ruby Tucker and her days of community involvement began. “Ruby told me about the Civic Association and suggested I come to a meeting,” Rosa said. “Also, my kids were in school at Cora Kelly and the school was the center of the neighborhood. We would have cookouts and holiday gatherings for the kids and everybody knew everybody.”
Rosa joined the Board of Directors of the Lynhaven Civic Association in 1970. “One of the first things I got involved in was keeping Cora Kelly open,” Rosa said. “The School Board decided to close our school and bus our kids across town. Every time we saw a School Board member in the grocery store or at any community gathering, we advocated for them to re-open our school. We finally won that fight and Cora Kelly re-opened as a Magnet School.”
As the 1980s began, Lynhaven, like many other urban neighborhoods, experienced an influx of drugs. “We were one of the first neighborhoods to be assigned a community police officer,” Rosa said. “Over the years, we worked very well with the Alexandria Police Department. Our liaisons were excellent.”
Captain Robyn Nichols is the Sheriff's Office liaison to Lynhaven who previously served for 17 years as the police department liaison to Lynhaven. "Mrs. Byrd is so deserving of this honor," Nichols said. "She has been a dedicated community leader for years, always working with City officials to make Alexandria, and particularly Lynhaven, a better place. She represents what is best about Alexandria -- caring, resourceful and committed to her community."
In addition to her work with the Lynhaven Civic Association and the PTA at Cora Kelly, Rosa became an Alexandria elections official, a position she still holds. “Rosa Byrd is one of our longest-serving and most conscientious election officials, and an excellent choice for Alexandrian of the Year,” said Anna Leider, Alexandria’s General Registrar. “She has worked at the Cora Kelly precinct since 1992, and has been the Chief Officer there since 2009. In that time, she has assisted with over 60 elections, including six for President and seven for City Council. Cora Kelly is one of the City’s largest and most diverse precincts, and under Rosa’s exceptional leadership, each voter is treated with respect and every election has been conducted in a fair, unbiased and orderly fashion.
“I’ve been lucky enough to work with Rosa for over a dozen years. She brings great spirit and boundless energy to the election process, and Cora Kelly’s 4,028 voters are fortunate to have someone with her dedication and unquestionable character in charge of their precinct,” Leider said.
Susan Kellom is the Chair of the Alexandria Electoral Board and alexandrianews.org’s 2013 Alexandrian of the Year. “I know Rosa best as the Chief Election Judge at Cora Kelly precinct,” Kellom said. “I’m always impressed by how well organized her operation is, and how well she copes with both the big and small glitches of Election Day. Last November, I arrived at her poll during the morning rush to find her coping with a very long line and electronic poll books that had temporarily gone down. Thanks to her leadership, the poll book situation was being expeditiously handled and the voters were being courteously encouraged to hang on just a little bit longer.
“I am always impressed with the insight she has to offer about how we can improve our service to voters. I think that one of the reasons that Cora Kelly is such a well-run precinct is her ability to lead and motivate her workers. She cultivates an atmosphere of professionalism combined with empathy for the voter and the result is excellent service to our citizens,” Kellom said.
When Rosa first moved to the area, she took a job at E. J. Korvette’s, a department store in Bailey’s Crossroads where the Burlington Coat Factory is now located. She also attended Temple Business School on King Street.
“As they began cutting my hours at Korvette’s, I was looking for another job,” Rosa said. “I heard they were looking for a registrar at Francis C. Hammond where my kids went to school and I applied for the job. Dr. Jim Wilson, who was the principal at Hammond at the time, hired me in 1981 and I spent the next 30 years working for ACPS.”
School Board Member Patricia Hennig met Rosa when Rosa worked at Hammond. “I first met her when I was a member of the Hammond PTA,” Hennig said. “She was always responsive to parents and was great with the kids.
“When I was first elected to the School Board, Rosa worked at Central Office. She was a dedicated employee of the School System and has worked tirelessly to make Alexandria a better place to live,” Hennig said.
Over the years, Rosa worked for a number of ACPS superintendents. “From Hammond, I went to work in Central Office in the technology department,” Rosa said. “I worked for a number of superintendents. Dr. Berg was probably my favorite because he was a down-to-earth administrator who was accessible to employees.
“Dr. Sherman, the last superintendent I worked for, was at the other end of the spectrum. He probably was my least favorite,” Rosa said.
Former ACPS Superintendent Herbert Berg remembers Rosa as a dedicated employee. ”Rosa is the kind of employee that everyone hopes to find. She is the consummate team player who dedicated herself to taking care of everyone around her,” Berg said. “I truly enjoyed working with her.
“Outside of her work life, Rosa and her friend Ruby Tucker were the Mother Superiors of Cora Kelly. They collected food, money and clothing for the children at Cora Kelly and saw that no child went without. I rarely visited Cora Kelly that one of them wasn’t there.
“Rosa is married to a wonderful man, Jack, who has served as a helpmate to her. Theirs is one of those rare long marriages that serves as a model. Rosa is truly deserving of being named the 2014 Alexandrian of the Year,” Berg said.
Rosa retired from ACPS in 2011. “I stay busy,” she said. “I attend the Senior Citizens group at Charles Houston at least once a week and do a number of other things.
“I am still involved with the Civic Association but am no longer on the Board. We have some wonderful folks who are doing a great job. The neighborhood is certainly changing and we have different problems than we did when I first came.
“I still miss Ruby. Ruby and Gene and Jack and Rosa traveled together. We said we were going to visit all 50 states and we have made it to 46. Jack and I still travel but it is not the same,” Rosa said.
Rosa’s two children and two of her grandchildren graduated from T. C. Williams High School. “My youngest grandson attends Episcopal High School because that’s where he wanted to go,” Rosa said. “My daughter lives in Lynhaven and my son lives in Mt. Jefferson. My granddaughter works for ACPS.”
Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille has known Rosa for more than 40 years. “I first met Rosa in 1972 shortly after I was appointed to the School Board, and have worked with her for more than 40 years on many issues, including improving our school system,” Euille said. “ This is indeed an outstanding and long deserved honor for Rosa.
“She has been a community activist for the poor, our youth, our seniors, and her neighborhood, for more than three decades, along with her longtime friend, Ruby Tucker. Together, they challenged all of us to not only improve the quality of life for everyone, but, to show respect, love and appreciation for each other at all times. As a result, we have become a better and inclusive city for everyone to enjoy and raise a family,” Euille said.