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Ethlyn Sims Byrd, a longtime Henderson County teacher who excelled in getting through to developmentally challenged students and pushing high achievers to their potential, died Friday at Pardee Hospital after an illness of about two months. She was 70.
She and her husband, Frank Byrd, both were inducted into the Henderson County Education Foundation for their contributions to education — Ethlyn Byrd for her 22 years in the county schools and Frank Byrd for his work at Blue Ridge Community College. She is also survived by her son, John, of Tampa, and daughter, Elizabeth, of New York City, and two grandchildren.
A service has been set for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. James Episcopal Church. Thos. Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors is handling arrangements.
A native of Baton Rouge and graduate of Louisiana State University, Byrd also had a masters degree in school administration from Furman University and a certificate in gifted and talented education from Mars Hill College.
Quick to laugh and smile, she was known for her ability to adapt to any situation, for her range in teaching students from age 6 to 16 and for her positive attitude despite the frustrations that come with the territory.
"I liked the ones who were challenges," she said in a biographical sketch when she was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.
Her husband said he did not know what accounted for her positive attitude, but what he has heard repeatedly in the days since her death is what a difference she made.
"That was just her," he said. "I've been hearing it all over town, about what a great teacher she was. I always knew she was a great teacher and now I wish I had stood in the classroom and watched her."
What people said about Ethlyn confirmed that the fruit of her work lives on, in the lives of math pupils who finally grasped Cartesian coordinates, students who got their diplomas and children who grew to adulthood.
At an aerobics class on Monday, a young man told Frank Byrd that Ethlyn "was the reason he got out of seventh grade." Another friend stopped him to express condolences. "He talked to me for 15 minutes about what a difference she made to his children," he said.
She had tutored children regularly since her retirement, often for no pay, sometimes keeping the same child for years. "She was tutoring at Bruce Drysdale until she died," Frank Byrd said. "She was just involved with kids. She loved them and they loved her."
She taught for 35 years — 22 in Henderson County — before her retirement in 2002. She taught math and science in Balfour seventh and eighth grades starting in 1967, the same year she married Frank. She taught at Flat Rock Junior High, Hillandale, Hendersonville and Bruce Drysdale elementary schools and Hendersonville Middle School.
She specialized in kids on either end of the spectrum, from emotionally troubled children at a state treatment center to academically and intellectually gifted (AIG) students.
Developmentally-challenged students "weren't necessarily the easiest children to teach, but they appealed to me," she said in the Hall of Fame interview. She chalked up a victory when a child would "blurt out an idea," join a class discussion and overcome shyness. "The ability to achieve is so important for students," she said. "It can be from a very simple job, being able to do it and remembering how to the next time."
Byrd was the county's nominee in 1990 for the Governor's Award in Excellence in Teaching for math and three times was teacher of the year at her school.
Byrd was a "Steel Magnolia — strong, determined and confident — with an air of diplomacy and Southern charm that put all those around her at ease," said her sister, Dorothy Fantle, who taught at Atkinson after Byrd. "She was an inspiration to all — always professional, exhibiting tact, diplomacy and a wonderful sense of humor."