Mary Beth Layman has relished her position as Special Programs Director for the Town of Vinton.
“I’ve been blessed with the rare opportunity to work in a job that’s extremely fulfilling and a perfect fit for me,” said Layman as she prepares to retire at the end of December after 39 years of service to the citizens of Vinton.
Layman was hired in 1979 as the Assistant Cultural Arts Director for the town— a job she happened on while taking an international folk-dance class at what was then the Vinton Recreation Center. The next year she moved up to the Director’s position when Harriet Gregson relocated and then to the new position of Special Programs Director created when the Vinton War Memorial and Cultural Arts Directors jobs were merged.
Layman says she was bitten by the event and activities planning bug early in life and over the years she has been able to use those talents as a facilitator, supervisor, and liaison for countless programs in the town which enabled her to shine and make the town shine as well.
A councilman once characterized her as the “workhorse of Vinton” for all the projects she has undertaken for the town— “If you want a job done and done well, give it to Mary Beth.”
“Compassion and generosity are the two words that come to mind when thinking of Mary Beth,” said Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters. “She has such a love for her community, coworkers, friends and family and her automatic response is to care for others above anything else.
“She is a kind and patient person with a soft-spoken demeanor, although she maintains an unwavering conviction for what she believes and possesses a work ethic that would take a crew of 10 to replicate,” he continued. “The town will immensely miss Mary Beth as an employee; she is the epitome of what it means to be a public servant and I have no doubt she will continue to have an incredible impact on her community in more ways than we can imagine.”
Layman grew up in Roanoke, graduated from William Fleming High School, and studied art at James Madison University, but left early to help care for her father who was in declining health.
Her first job for the town involved organizing, scheduling, and supervising activities at the recreation center back when those involved learning the “Hustle” and aerobics classes.
Layman says her most memorable event as Cultural Arts Director was facilitating the Vinton Folklife Festival, putting together music, arts and crafts, and demonstrations of folk traditions like a “jigsaw puzzle” to showcase the heritage of the region. She recalls one demonstration of a dog coursing event with a dog herding ducks.
When the Vinton Farmers’ Market was constructed in the ’80s, she worked to recruit and manage vendors, and in later years established programs for children, including her favorite “Shake, Bake, and Sprout” which combines movement, planting container gardens, and children’s cooking (in coordination with Virginia Tech).
Over the years she has coordinated the annual Fourth of July celebrations at the War Memorial. Early on, the Fire Department put on the fireworks display, until government regulations came into play.
Layman has served on the Vinton Dogwood Festival Board for 33 years, as a liaison between the organization and the town.
“She’s going to be missed,” said former Public Works employee Brenda McGuire. “I always appreciated the enthusiasm with which she pursued special events. You would always see her hanging around after the St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Roanoke recruiting the best floats and parade entries for the Dogwood Festival parade.
“She was always in a good mood whenever I dealt with her,” added McGuire. “Even if things may not have been going her way, you could never tell. Mary Beth will be leaving some really big shoes to fill, and I don’t think anyone will replace her heart.”
In that heart, there is a special place for veterans.
“Mary Beth was an exemplary professional and a dynamic supporter of the veteran community,” said Col. John Miller, US Army (Ret.), President of the United States Army Stonewall Jackson Chapter and chair of the Roanoke Valley 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War Commemoration Committee.
“In that capacity, she worked with representatives from the other area municipalities and ensured the success of major events including hosting the Vietnam ‘Wall that Heals’ on the grounds of the Salem VA Medical Center; hosting the 39-piece Vietnam Combat Art Collection from the US Army Center of Military History at Hollins University and the Vinton War Memorial; hosting Vietnam-era veterans at the Salem Red Sox Stadium; and, hosting separate concerts of Vietnam-era music by each of the eight area high school bands followed by a massed band concert of patriotic music under the direction of Maestro David Stewart Wiley. Mary Beth was a major contributor to each event exhibiting a ‘can do’ attitude and a broad smile, bringing great credit to her and the Town of Vinton,” Miller said.
Layman worked tirelessly as Project Manager on the construction of the High Ground Monument through the Vinton Vision 2006 Committee. She has played a significant role in the Blue Ridge Veterans Celebration organization.
According to Elaine Bays-Murphy with RVTV, Layman was one of the founding members of the Roanoke Valley Regional Cable Television Committee and was recognized recently by them for her 27 years on the board.
“I have known Mary Beth since 1991, when we were appointed to a regional committee to create a government and educational access television station,” said Anne Marie Green, Roanoke County Director of Human Resources.
They, along with representatives from Roanoke City and the county and city school systems, made up the Operations Committee that formed RVTV, Cox and Comcast Channel 3.
“Mary Beth is unfailingly kind, unflappable, knowledgeable about Vinton, and generally a wonderful person,” Green said. “She was always available to help with any project, and in true ‘Town of Vinton style’ turned up at any and all regional events to represent the Town. She has worn many hats over the years and has been a big part of the many fabulous changes happening in Vinton.”
Layman also filled an integral role in the three separate renovation projects at the Vinton War Memorial and in the year-long celebration of the Vintennial in 1984 which led to the establishment of the Vinton History Museum.
The list goes on: aupervisor of operations for years at the Vinton Municipal Pool, supervisor of programs at the Charles R. Hill Senior Center, oversight manager for the Town Calendar, disseminator of marketing and event information on the town’s programs dating from the day of carbon copies and mimeograph machines with notices hand-delivered to computerization of the process.
She has worked seamlessly with the Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce over the years with events such as Fall Festival and Downtown Trick or Treating. Her networking and resources have enabled her to arrange entertainment for many of the events in Vinton.
“Mary Beth has been a pivotal piece in the success of so many great things that have been done in Vinton,” said Chamber President Justin Davison. “She has always been a solid support of the VACC and served as a great liaison between the Town of Vinton and the Chamber.”
Layman says the event that is most near and dear to her heart is the annual Downtown Vinton Trick or Treat, started about 35 years ago.
“Seeing the children have fun, dress in their awesome costumes and often say thank you just melts my heart,” said Layman. “I am also amazed at the businesses who have been supportive and provided candy or treats since the very first year. With their ongoing support we have continued a wonderful tradition In Vinton.”
“Although I only had the pleasure of working with Mary Beth for eight years, my family and I have benefited from her decades of service to the community,” said former Vice Mayor Matt Hare. “I have always known her to go above and beyond for people and the Town. Her love for others is evident in the way she treats people and serves them. Vinton is a much better place because of Mary Beth’s contributions.”
Layman and her husband Randy have two sons, Aaron and Thomas. She says she has been able to balance family responsibilities and the duties of her job over the years because of the flexibility of her job, but mainly through the support and understanding of her husband.
She is a member of Thrasher Memorial where she plays in the handbell choir and is an avid dancer (the Carolina Shag, ballroom, and recently the West Coast Swing), along with her husband.
As is her way, Layman has always shunned the spotlight and the credit— “I have been blessed to have a great career helping people enjoy Vinton!”