LARGO -- She may remind you of the Road Runner -- a bundle of energy, always busy evading idle moments; escaping, as it were, a lazy interlude.
But the bottom line is that she is effective. Very effective.
When Cathy Santa retired as Largo's Parks and Recreation director in 2003 after 18 years, the city launched search to replace the woman who had developed a department that was the envy of Pinellas County.
As it turned out, there was a jewel right in the department in the person of Joan Byrne. She had been in the department for a couple of years, starting as the manager of Southwest Recreational Complex then moving to the Highland rec center as manager and later director.
You talk to her now and you can see why the interviewers in the city staff all the way up to City Manager Steve Stanton would be impressed with Byrne, and her history.
She grew up in the St. Louis, Missouri, area, went to Fontbonne University there and embarked on a career in education. She met Patrick Byrne, a fellow St. Louisian, got married and they found themselves in Minnesota where she eventually served as an assistant principal in Minneapolis.
After working 10 years in the state university administration, she and Patrick, a medical doctor who works mostly as a consultant in epidemiology, got involved overseas.
She worked training teachers in Budapest, Hungary, in the Eastern European Schools Administration, a program funded by the U.S. State Department.
Along the way, children Michael and Katie came along. Michael is a graduate of the Naval Academy and a newly commissioned ensign who is serving on a ship in Japan and Katie is studying at the FSU School of Nursing.
When the Byrnes returned from the career stint in Europe they came to Florida where Joan became the director of continuing education at Eckerd College and, among other things, began the Eckerd Senior Studies Program which brought older people back to academe.
Since she took over Largo's Recreation, Parks and Arts Department in June, 2003, the Highland Aquatic Center has become a centerpiece of Largo liesure life and in the near future is the development of Datsko Park much of the work of which is being financed by a $200,000 grant.
Byrne runs an efficient department. The job is being done in fiscal year 2005 (which began October 1) on a $9.4 million budget, virtually the same as the outlay in 2004, while it is serving more people in more projects.
Her department is wide-ranging, from the sports programs and activities of recreation, to maintaining Largo's parks network, including the Largo Golf Course which is getting a lot of attention as it beefs up its appeal to the public.
Then there are the arts which has as its centerpiece the Cultural Center where Byrne and its director, Colin Bissett, have planned an extensive entertainment program.
In addition, there will be the experimental outdoor concerts, being planned on a limited bases, which will take place next spring adjacent to the new Largo Library.
One innovative idea Byrne came up with recently to solve a pressing parking problem is a trolley shuttle that will allow folks coming to the Central Park area to park at Largo High School, the Pinellas County School Board lot and other sites and then ride to events at the Cultural Center and park.
Busy? Yes. Joan Byrne is a busy person. But, as a president of some years ago said, "If you want to get a job done, ask a busy person to do it."
Joan Byrne is getting the job done with the Largo Recreation, Parks and Arts Department.
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