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Dr. George Boyd, chair emeritus of the Gallaudet Community Relations Council (GCRC), was praised at a moving October 13 ceremony in the Gallaudet University Kellogg Conference Hotel as a take-charge leader who never in his 50-plus years of civic involvement stood by complacently when a task needed to be done to improve the quality of life for residents of the Near Northeast neighborhood, hoping that someone else might decide to get involved.
Representatives from numerous neighborhood civic organizations, government agencies, and the University came forward at the event, “George A. Boyd: A Legacy of Service to the Community,” to pay homage to this influential leader and humanitarian who is credited not only for bringing the community together to accomplish common goals, but for inspiring the positive relationship Gallaudet enjoys with its neighbors. The tribute, hosted by the GCRC and the University, also served as an occasion for Boyd’s many admirers to show their appreciation for the countless efforts he has undertaken over the decades to bring much needed services to the citizens of the city’s Near Northeast neighborhood, and beyond.
The venue was appropriate, since it was through Boyd’s support that the neighborhood embraced construction of the conference hotel on the Gallaudet campus. Because of his proposal to the University to memorialize the historic nature of the project’s site as the city’s first school for black deaf students, built in 1952, Gallaudet agreed to erect a memorial wall at the front entrance with a plaque bearing the names of the school’s first pupils, thus gaining residents’ endorsement to the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA)–an important step in obtaining the required building permits.
An inspirational tribute to Boyd was presented by Julia Bishop-Pitt, who retired from Gallaudet in 2004 as director of Gallaudet’s Equal Opportunity Programs, and served for 31 years as liaison between the President’s Office and the GCRC. Boyd helped establish this influential organization in 1975 and served as its chair until only recently. Bishop-Pitt witnessed Boyd’s skills in getting projects accomplished in a timely fashion with his no-nonsense approach, and noted his gift as a diplomatic negotiator for bringing diverse groups together to resolve conflicts. She recalled Boyd’s response when, many years ago, she asked him his philosophy of addressing issues to improve the community: “When there is something to be done, don’t look around for someone else to do it, do it yourself,” he said. Boyd exercised this belief countless times over the decades, helping launch projects to revitalize the H Street corridor and surrounding neighborhoods through affordable housing and commercial development. He also led the way in establishing the GCRC’s Annual Awards and Recognition Program, which recognizes public safety initiatives, individual achievements, cultural enrichment, efforts to improve education, community service, and economic development.
“George refused to just live in his neighborhood and passively watch things remain the same by taking a hands-off approach,” said Bishop-Pitt. “He was not satisfied when he knew that just a few blocks away, there were children playing in the streets because they didn’t have a decent, safe playground to play in, no well-equipped recreation center with planned activities.” He responded to this problem by being a major supporter of the Joseph Cole Recreation Center on Morse Street, near the Gallaudet campus. He carried this advocacy for neighborhood youth further by fighting for the renovation of dilapidated school buildings so that children could focus on learning in a safe environment.
Pitt further commended Boyd for his foresight in seeing the mutual value of a partnership between Gallaudet and the community. “Dr. Boyd has always encouraged and supported the many efforts of Gallaudet’s faculty, staff, and students to become part of the fabric of the Near Northeast Community, and beyond those boundaries, as well,” she said. “This partnership was established on a solid foundation and has proven over the years that that foundation is unsinkable.” Boyd has proven his support for Gallaudet on many projects. He also testified on behalf of the University in favor of building the nearby Metro station, which opened in 2004, that includes Gallaudet’s name.
The “remarkable legacy of service” that Boyd leaves behind, said Bishop-Pitt “must be carried to even higher heights.” She urged the audience to follow his example. “Get out there and apply some George Boydism to your neighborhood,” she said. “I challenge you, on behalf of Dr. Boyd, to get out there and make a difference.”
Among the many prominent leaders who commended Boyd for his accomplishments and civic-minded spirit were Ward 5 City Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr.; Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz; the University’s eighth president, Dr. I. King Jordan; and D.C. Federation of Civic Associations President Robert Brannum. Thomas was joined on the stage by renowned television sportscaster and former D.C. area resident James Brown, and Thomas’ mother, Romaine Thomas. Councilmember Thomas, who served under Boyd when Boyd was a commissioner for the Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC5B)–a position he held for 26 years–presented him a resolution from the City Council. Other resolutions of recognition to Boyd came from Gallaudet’s Board of Trustees, the 5th District Metropolitan Police Department, the GCRC, the H Street Community Development Corporation, and ANC5B.
Dr. Hurwitz, who became the University’s tenth president in January, said that he is impressed by the bonds that have been formed between the University and its neighbors, and he remarked that the opportunities for students to become involved in neighborhood projects provide invaluable lessons to help them become good citizens. He said that Boyd was a guest at House One for a reception in his honor earlier this year, and he and First Lady Vicki Hurwitz were amazed by the numerous projects that have come about as the result of his leadership. He commented that many of these would not have been successful without the work of Boyd and the GCRC, and he thanked the GCRC for the important role it plays in the community.
Jordan began his remarks by saying that one of his most pleasurable moments as president was awarding Boyd an honorary doctor of laws degree in 2002. He recalled an occasion when Boyd accompanied him to a BZA hearing to testify on behalf of the neighborhood regarding campus construction projects. Other area colleges and universities were present for similar purposes, said Jordan, and the comments from their neighbors were, as a rule, far from complimentary. As Gallaudet’s time at the hearing was drawing near, “I was getting nervous,” said Jordan. “Then George came up and talked about how wonderful Gallaudet was and how the GCRC was involved in partnerships [with the University], and the BZA folks smiled, and I smiled.” Afterward, one of the university presidents approached Jordan to say that he wished his institution had something like the GCRC. “Gallaudet is very lucky to have a good neighbor like you,” Jordan told Boyd.
Boyd closed the ceremony by thanking everyone in the audience for their support over the years. He added that he was particularly grateful to the GCRC and Gallaudet’s present and former presidents for their dedication and hard work, and he vowed to stay active with them to continue improving relations between the campus and the community. He also disclosed his secret to bringing people together: “I’ve learned that communication is the key to most problems–just sit down and talk.”
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