|Parents and students alike have taken to the internet, creating memes of LCPS public information officer Wayde Byard. —Courtesy Dave Scarangella |
When the temperature starts dropping and snow begins to sprinkle the ground, there's only one man Loudoun County Public School students want to hear from: LCPS public information officer Wayde Byard.
But what started as just joy at school being canceled has grown into a cult-like following of the man with the baritone voice and finely groomed mustache, complete with Internet memes-galore.
Transmitted via the web, memes are phrases, pictures or videos with repeated themes or words. Some common Byard memes depict him as the Dos Equis man or as character Ned Stark from the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”
“I've seen them. I like them,” Byard said in an interview with the Times-Mirror. “As long as it's good- natured, it's okay. And it does get the word out about snow.”
Most kids know about the phone messages, which Byard and Suzette Whys, supervisor of world language and cultures, record every summer. There's actually about 16 different messages, covering all disasters “short of volcanoes,” Byard said.
But students know little else about the mustached crooner that tells the kids whether or not they can leisure in bed all day.
A New York state of mind
Byard wears his background on his neck – literally. His ID badge hangs on a New York Giants lanyard, and his office boasts Yankees memorabilia on nearly every square inch of the wall.
The oldest of three, Byard grew up in New York and New Jersey. In high school, he played defensive end and tackle in football and also ran track.
In 1975 Byard left his homeland for the Show-Me State, attending Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. to study English. There Byard played fullback for the varsity soccer team, “because they didn't have football,” he explained.
During one spring semester, he studied abroad in Vienna, Austria. In addition to studying at the Institute for European Studies, he also worked at a concert venue, helping to set up and tear down the stage for acts like Queen, Billy Joel and David Bowie.
Immediately following the completion of his bachelor's in 1979, Byard matriculated to the University of Missouri to study journalism, an education that would take him to the Winchester Star newspaper – and his future wife.
In 1981, after receiving job offers in Topeka, Kansas City and Winchester, Byard packed his bags for Virginia, accepting a job as a city government reporter.
“I decided I liked the town. I wasn't going to stay long,” Byard said. “Then I met my wife through a wrong number.”
Calling to get someone to cover an event at James Wood High School, Brenda Kay Byard got ahold of the city government writer instead. But Byard went out, and he and the teacher six months his senior were married by the end of the year. They're still together today, though Brenda Kay Byard now works at Lord Fairfax Community College as an administrative dean. They have two adult daughters.
Byard stayed with the Winchester Star for 19.5 years, eventually ascending to the rank of assistant managing editor, earning 14 Virginia Press Association awards along the way.
During part of his career in the late '80s and early '90s, Byard was also an Associated Press voter for NCAA Division I basketball, selecting each week who the top basketball teams were.
“I got really into it,” Byard admitted, recalling how he used to get home from work and watch basketball games and then videotape the West Coast games to watch the following day at lunch. After four years, Byard threw in the towel as an AP voter.
“When you know who the second string shooting guard for Gonzaga is, you know too much,” Byard sagely offered.
Mr. Byard comes to Loudoun
In June of 2000, Byard left the newspaper business to become the public information officer for Loudoun County Public Schools.
“You know when it's time,” Byard said of leaving the news industry. “The hours here [with LCPS] are wild, but newspaper hours are wilder.”
Byard happily went toward the education industry; with a sister as a teacher, a wife in education and a father that's a former superintendent, Byard felt it would be a good fit.
“I didn't want to be just selling a product,” he explained.
Despite no public relations experience, Byard said he found the transition to be quite smooth.
“Everyone here is a teacher basically,” he said.
Byard's role extends beyond simply recording messages to tell kids they don't have to go to school, and he even noted that the decision to cancel school isn't made by him, but by Superintendent Edgar Hatrick.
A mainstay at School Board meetings, Byard also handles Internet and video content, media relations and crisis management.
But his legacy extends beyond the schoolhouse gates. As a hobby, he took up screenwriting, boasting five screenplay writing awards from various area festivals and seeing two of his shorts put into film. In 1996, he helped found Our Health, a nonprofit group based in Winchester that helps fulfill health and human service needs in the region. He now sits on the board of directors.
Byard reflects on his journey thus far with wistful humor, something you'd expect from a man whose face has been photoshopped on Oprah's.
“Life is seemingly random events,” he opines, “that make sense in retrospect.”
Memes all collected online