Volunteer, Consultant, Advocate, Ambassador
compiled by Kym Byrnes, photography by Nikola Tzenov
Former Military and Government Employee Devotes Retirement to Philanthropy, Volunteer Work
Thomas Beyard grew up in Hagerstown and eventually landed in Westminster, where he spent decades working for the city in roles ranging from planning and development to historic preservation and recreation. He lived and worked in Westminster, but he never stayed still. Beyard joined the military in his 20s, and his service took him around the world and taught him many of life’s most valuable lessons. He credits his family life growing up — two loving and involved parents, three siblings, and a close relationship with grandparents who lived across the street — with developing him into the person he is today. While he no longer works for the city of Westminster and as of 2019 is retired from the military, Beyard doesn’t stay still. He is actively involved in local nonprofits, serves on local boards and commissions and considers himself one of Towson University’s most committed ambassadors. He has been in constant motion for half a century and says he wouldn’t change a thing if he had to do it all over again.
When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I graduated in 1973 from Hagerstown High School, and I remember for a period of time I wanted to be a policeman. One of the people who was a huge influence on my life was a geography professor at community college — he was a politician and a professor, and he got me interested in urban planning and municipal government. I realized at that time that I didn’t really know what I wanted, and I took that class and thought it would be pretty cool to go in that direction. I went to junior college for a couple years and then transferred to Towson [University].
You’ve had active careers simultaneously in both government and military. What are some of the highlights of each path?
After working for an engineering firm for a couple years, I was hired by the city of Westminster in 1987. Initially I oversaw planning and recreation. At that time recreation was just a summer program housed in the old armory. After a few years, things were restructured and I got public works under my umbrella — a much bigger focus. That was where I learned a lot, it helped me later with the military.
I drive around now and can remember all these projects I had a hand in from that era. It’s a good feeling. There was a lot of change at that time — we had to update codes and laws for everything from signs to road widths, all kinds of things. It was an exciting time.
My military career started in 1982. I was an aviation guy, started out fixing helicopters then became an instructor. Then I transferred to Maryland National Guard and went into a unique special unit which then was called Mobilization Aircraft Control Element — the headquarters for regional aviation depots. Then in 2005 I got notice for the first time that my unit was going to be mobilized. I ended up becoming command sergeant major for the unit and we deployed to the Middle East. The unit was split between three countries — Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. We did component repair and maintenance support for helicopters. The most memorable thing about that first deployment was learning that with soldiers you don’t have to tell them how to do it, you just tell them what you want done and it gets done. It was a great learning experience for me.
We returned after 12 months and I went back to my job with the city, but the job had been restructured so I became the planning and development/zoning administrator. Over the next couple years I changed jobs in the military and deployed again to the Middle East. I came back again to a different job with the city — director of housing and historic preservation. In 2013 I left the city and took a full-time job as state sergeant major with the Maryland National Guard.
What inspired you to join the military?
I think my father and grandfather. My father served in the Army and my grandfather served in the National Guard. I just felt like something was missing. I was older, in my late 20s when I joined. I was like an old man in basic training. I wanted to do something for my country, to make a difference. And my father, he just loved it. He was excited when I joined.
You’ve traveled the world for work and military service. What are takeaways you can share about life that you’ve learned in your travels?
You find that no matter where you go, people are focused on the same things — we all want family to be safe, opportunity for kids, we want to learn from experience and interaction. It doesn’t matter where you go, no matter what kind of country, it’s always the same. Sometimes people don’t realize that — that others may do things a little differently, but deep down, they are not that different from us.
In 2000 I got picked to go on this [National Guard] mission to Estonia through Maryland’s State Partnership Program. The program pairs states with countries that were formed after the Soviet Union broke up for relationship-building purposes. I got picked because of my experience with municipal work. I fell in love with the place. Then in 2002 the city of Westminster created a partnership with the city of Paide, Estonia, to be sister cities. I’ve been involved for over 20 years.
What places that you’ve traveled are most memorable and why?
Estonia is probably my favorite place to visit. I’ve probably been there about 50 times. It’s like a second home. I have friends there that I met at the very beginning and we’re still close to this day.
Probably my most memorable trip was in 2018 for the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. We toured France, went to the northeast of the country where units of the National Guard were very involved, we had historical visits with experts who explained what happened, visited battlefields and beautiful cemeteries. The care put into cemeteries is unbelievable. We ended up staying longer than anticipated — we went to Paris and then Normandy. I could only dream what it was like [to be in that war], then when you get there and see it … I knew you had to be a brave person, but I can’t even imagine what those people went through. I would go back to France in a minute.
How do you think your military service has shaped you?
It’s helped me understand the value of people and teams — how you develop people as individuals and then develop teams out of those people to really get things done. It’s helped me understand the importance of knowing what each person brings to the table and making sure they have the discipline and training and motivation to do what they need to do. You instill that confidence so they can do their job. It gave me structure, to this day I still have this structure — when I get up, what I do — I still wear my hair short. I don’t know what my life would have been like if I hadn’t gone into the military or worked here [in Westminster].
You had many successes along the way and have accomplished a lot. What were the challenges along the way, were there times where you wondered if you had chosen the correct path?
As far as doubt and second-guessing, I learned that opportunity sometimes only comes once, so if opportunity knocked, I had to take it and not look back. Every chance I had to learn, to do something different, I took it. I never shied away from what they asked me to do. I made sure I had the right education, the right experience, and I was motivated. When there is a knock on the door of opportunity you have to be ready when it opens, physically and mentally.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything?
No. No way. I don’t think I could have planned this, it just happened. My mother and father — all the good qualities in me I give them credit for.
What are you most proud of?
As far as my work with the city, I’m proud when I go through town — to see things that I had a hand in. I always thought this was my city, I still feel that way.
What I’m really proud of in my military service — I call it finding hidden gems. Hidden gems are those soldiers that someone brings to you because someone thinks they have potential. I’d always ask senior people to bring up-and-coming soldiers with them [to events and meetings]. I’d interact with them and figure out who really had it, then I would make sure they got good advice, mentor and counsel them and set them in the right direction. Today they are some of the leaders of the National Guard.
The other thing is diversity. Three days into working for Dr. Singh [Dr. Linda Singh, the first Black person and the first woman to lead the Maryland National Guard as the 29th adjutant general], she charged me with building our bench to make sure Maryland National Guard leadership looks like our force. Diversity also in thought and capabilities, more than just the color of skin. We needed to make sure we had all the different areas of expertise covered. I had to come up with the means to build our bench up, which means having people ready to move into leadership positions. So I had to make sure our soldiers were getting to the right schools, that we were developing our pipeline of talent. We made tremendous progress. What we were doing was really important and she trusted me, and developing trust was the most important thing.
Who are your heroes — who did you look up to growing up that inspired you?
My mother and father and grandparents across the street inspired me. That one professor that got me moving into my professional career direction also inspired me. Also, I can’t understate the influence of General Singh and her protege. There’s still a lot of mentoring and learning happening there. These are the ones that have moved me into a direction I might not have gone otherwise.
You retired as a senior enlisted leader at the Maryland National Guard in 2019. What fills your days now?
I currently serve in a variety of government and volunteer roles. I serve as vice chair of the Westminster Planning and Zoning Commission and as a member of the Carroll County Administrative Charging Committee; and as vice president and a member of the board of directors at the Community Foundation of Carroll County. I still support the Westminster-Paide Partner City partnership events between Maryland and Estonian communities. I’m also on the Towson University Rise Committee, a $100 million capital campaign. I say I’m their No. 1 ambassador, at least of athletics and the College of Health Professions and College of Fine Art and Communications.
I guess I just believe that life and my career have been good to me; now it’s about giving back, passing along the things I’ve learned from others. I have one scholarship at Towson University in my name and another in the name of a National Guard soldier who died in Afghanistan. At the Community Foundation, I created the donor-advised Thomas Beyard Charitable Fund.