Herbert and Beverly Byrd: Helping Students Chase Their Dreams
Herbert and Beverly Byrd Make a $1 Million Gift That Will Mature in the Future
$283. It was a daunting figure to a young man fresh out of the Air Force who was pursuing a B.S. in electronic engineering. $283. It was the cost of technical books at a trade school in 1966. And Herbert L. Byrd Jr. simply didn't have the money. He contacted his mother and his father, who was serving in the Army in Germany, and asked for help.
"I hated having to do that," recalls Byrd G'75. "I know what it's like to not have money." That's the motivation behind his continued generosity to Syracuse University, where he received his master's degree in electrical engineering. In 2005, Byrd established a book fund in the College of Engineering and Computer Science to help defray the cost of books for students in need. Now, Byrd and his wife, Beverly, have set up a $1 million bequest in their estate plan to establish the Herbert and Beverly Byrd Scholarship in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
Byrd was working at IBM when he decided to pursue an advanced degree at Syracuse University. "IBM was a generous employer," he says. "They paid for my tuition and those textbooks. I was able to focus on my studies, free from worry." Now, he's helping to alleviate the anxieties of other promising young engineers.
Byrd also hopes to make it easier for Black students, in particular, to pursue careers in engineering, believing it's critical for them to have encouragement, mentorship and leadership examples. Byrd recalls that when he was in high school in Virginia, he was fortunate to have student teachers from nearby Hampton University, a well-known historically Black institution. "I went to visit one of the classes there, where they were building microwave units. I was fascinated. To see all those Black guys in that class, so attentive, and they all looked like me."
Byrd excelled at IBM, but saw his future in business for himself. He moved back to Virginia and started his own company, providing computer technology services to the federal government. Eventually, Byrd became president and CEO of MOJA, an information technology and intelligence analysis company that supports the U.S. intelligence community.
His entrepreneurial drive and personal determination combine with a deep appreciation for his roots and the challenges he faced. He decided to study his own family history (his great, great grandfather was Irish, married to a Native American) and ended up writing Proclamation 1625: America's Enslavement of the Irish in 2016, unveiling the untold history of Irish slavery in the colonies. "Many of them came here in chains, just like the Africans," he writes in the book. "They toiled in the tobacco fields of Virginia and Maryland and in the sugar cane fields of Barbados and Jamaica."
Byrd is determined to help others overcome tough odds and achieve their dreams. His only son, David, was a successful engineer whose life was cut short at age 38 by a rare form of cancer. The couple established the Herbert and Beverly Byrd Scholarship in tribute to David and all those hope-filled engineering students, with a preference to support Black students enrolled in Syracuse University's engineering programs. Because the gift was created as part of the University's Invest Syracuse initiative, the University created a second five-year scholarship that is currently active. The Byrds also set up an estate gift to further cancer research.
"Both Beverly and I are hoping people can attain their hopes and dreams with the help we can give," says Byrd. "We've had a good life. We could not ask for anything more." Their bequest establishing the endowed scholarship will make an impact for generations to come.
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