Presented at the 2022 Leadership Luncheon by Megan Toliver, YWCA board member
I am so glad I was asked to introduce our 2022 Leader of Distinction. She is someone you most likely won’t know, and she likes it that way. She doesn’t lead a high-profile life; instead, she works in the spaces where people need her the most… sometimes 24 hours a day.
I met our Leader of Distinction before COVID-19 upended our lives, maybe almost four years ago now. I was leading a women’s recovery group for Trilogy Recovery Community at the County Jail and realized that every single woman I encountered there had an extensive history of domestic and sexual violence. I called the YWCA and in just a week, this woman was a special guest at my women’s recovery group. I can’t tell you how thankful I was for her. I remember how vulnerable and honest she was, and that really opened the doors for the other women to feel comfortable sharing their stories. Many of them had never really talked about the violence they had experienced in their lives, and for some, it had been going on since they were children.
As I got to know her better, I learned that this remarkable woman is what Anne-Marie calls a Mother of the Movement. She has been involved in anti-violence work formally since 1986. For many years before that, she was part of grassroots work when it was all about strategizing at kitchen tables and getting women out of town in the back of a VW bus. This was before there were shelters, before mandatory arrest laws, before the Violence Against Women Act, before domestic violence advocacy was even a thing.
She began working on a crisis line in Alaska and welcomed people into shelter, often in the middle of the night. She went on to work as a shelter advocate, support group facilitator, and eventually ran the shelter and then the entire domestic violence and sexual assault program. She was among the first advocates to do family advocacy, focused on the effects of DV on children. She led parenting classes for survivors rebuilding their families after abuse and served adult survivors of child abuse.
She also worked with batterers during her career, leading intervention treatment programs in partnership with court-appointed therapists. She took her considerable knowledge and experience to Child Protective Services and was a voice for victims and survivors throughout her career there. The Anchorage office of CPS was one of the most knowledgeable about domestic violence and sexual assault, thanks to her insistence on training.
When she moved with her husband to the lower 48, she took a break from this work. But she couldn’t stay away for long. She joined the YWCA in 2014, leading our office in Dayton and then became the Director of Client Services in 2016 overseeing all of the YWCA’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault programs. In December of this year, she will embark on a well-deserved retirement. Even though we won’t see her on a daily basis, we know that we’ll always be in her heart because we never say goodbye at the YWCA.
Please join me in thanking and celebrating Mary Byrd, 2022 YWCA Leader of Distinction. Mary, thank you for all you have done, and will continue to do, to change and save lives.