A quick note to thank all the blog readers – your comments and suggestions have led me to the discovery of another Sister-by-Byrne. I finally got to meet Betty Commanday in person at a cocktail party Saturday night in Beaufort.
It never ceases to amaze me how Byrne touched so many lives, and in such different ways. Betty met Byrne in the 70s when Byrne was teaching in Beaufort County schools and Betty worked in mental health. When Betty went on to get degrees in education, she realized Byrne’s methods of teaching exceptional children were years ahead of her time. As a dancer Byrne knew, intuitively, what would later by studied and proved by developmental experts – that kids with challenges learn better when they’re in tune with their inner creativity and physicality. It sounds so obvious now, but that’s only because trailblazers put the word out with such passion and dedication.
It got me thinking about how I met Byrne – and how she moved me. It was twenty years ago, when I was a cub reporter for WJWJ-TV. She was one of the first people my boss, Suzanne Larson, assigned me to interview. I had just moved here, from out West, determined to leap from this very small pond to a much bigger TV market as quickly as humanly possible. In a tone of voice I’m quite sure was the verbal equivalent of rolling my eyes, I asked Suzanne, “Well, what’s the news hook?”
I recognized Byrne Miller’s name. A banner advertising an upcoming presentation of the Byrne Miller Dance Theatre was strung between the Live Oaks at the corner of Ribaut and Bay. And I imagined a never-ending dance recital, replete with chubby Southern daughters in fluffy tutus. Suzanne saw right through me.
“Well, she’s a dancer so I think you’ll enjoy meeting her.” Clearly I had a thing or two to learn about graciousness. “And Byrne is a respected member of the Beaufort community despite being a Yankee. That alone is newsworthy.”
Little did I know that meeting this woman would change my life, and my outlook on life. Or that years after leaving television, I would be writing a memoir about Byrne Miller and be lucky enough to consider Suzanne one of my many sisters-by-Byrne, if not by birth.