|Birth: ||Dec. 5, 1925|
|Death: ||Feb. 17, 2014|
- Frederick Sprigg Hays [1893-1973]
- Eleanor Merryman (Ray) Hays [1899-1994]
Married Samuel Harold Tolbert
- Eleanor Tolbert Lawrence
- Frederick Sprigg Hays Tolbert
- Richard Leonard Tolbert
- John Carlton Tolbert
Elizabeth Tolbert dies at 88; longtime mayor of Barnesville, Maryland
The Washington Post Company
By Emily Langer, Published: February 22
Elizabeth Tolbert did not collect a salary during her three decades as mayor of Barnesville (population 172), a town that her forefathers helped found 35 miles northwest of Washington at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland.
She conducted much of her mayoral business at the dining table in the white farmhouse where she was born and where she spent nearly her entire life. Her staff consisted of one part-time clerk-treasurer who held the job into her early 90s and whom Mrs. Tolbert said she "could not do without."
Election after election, town residents dropped their ballots in a cigar box and returned Mrs. Tolbert to office. Voters knew that as long as Mrs. Tolbert was mayor, new neighbors would be greeted with homemade pies. The developers who had overtaken much of the rest of the region would not receive the same welcome.
"We don't have but one stop sign," Luke Fedders, Barnesville's current mayor, said in an interview. "It's just a small town that she was able to keep a small town."
Mrs. Tolbert, known to many in town as "Miss Lib," died Feb. 17 at an assisted living facility in nearby Clarksburg. She was 88 and had congestive heart failure, said her daughter, Eleanor Lawrence.
"The straight-talking lady don of Montgomery County politics" — that was how The Washington Post once described Mrs. Tolbert. She led one of the smallest municipalities in her state, but through longevity and pluckiness became a political powerhouse.
"Anybody local who was running for any sort of position would stop by to see Lib . . . to get her blessing," William Price, a lifelong Barnesville resident, recalled in an interview.
To be precise, the people of Barnesville elect three town commissioners, one of whom is named mayor. By tradition, the honor goes to the commissioner who receives the most votes. That person was almost always Mrs. Tolbert.
She first became mayor in 1965 and served for four years. She returned to the office in 1975 and remained there until her retirement in 2001.
One year, The Post reported, she failed to win the greatest number of votes, but the other commissioners made her mayor nonetheless. It seemed only sporting.
With her silver hair teased into a French twist, Mrs. Tolbert was a recognizable figure at meetings of the Maryland Municipal League, where she served for a period as president, and at higher-profile gatherings.
Once, during a meeting of the National League of Cities, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley inquired about the population of Barnesville. It was 170, she replied.
She corrected the record, The Post reported, when it became clear that Bradley thought she meant 170,000.
Twice Mrs. Tolbert was invited to the White House. After one visit, the Baltimore Sun reported, a journalist asked if she was staying for dinner with President Ronald Reagan and Mother Teresa, who also happened to be visiting. Mrs. Tolbert said no, that she was going home to pick peas.
She identified herself as a "yellow dog Democrat," but much of her work had little to do with political persuasion. She helped rescue lost sheep and horses, adjudicated neighborly disputes involving disorderly dogs and notified Potomac Edison of power outages in town, among other services.
"I've got a loud voice," she once told The Post. "I'm home all day and I'm the one that goes out and screams at speeders in the road."
Jim Brown, a Barnesville resident who represents cities and mayors as a lobbyist, said that he worked with Mrs. Tolbert on a campaign to persuade the Montgomery County government to install speed cameras in town.
"The respect with which county officials held her gave us a huge leg up," Brown said in an interview. They ultimately prevailed and succeeded in slowing the speeding commuters who used Barnesville Road to avoid a congested portion of Interstate 270.
Mrs. Tolbert was credited with providing steady leadership through the droughts that threatened to cripple Barnesville homes that relied on wells for water.
Cherry Barr, a Barnesville resident since 1978, recalled one season that was "tinder dry." When sparks on the nearby train tracks began to ignite small fires, Mrs. Tolbert instructed the families in town to bring their young children to her house, where she watched them until the flames were extinguished.
Mrs. Tolbert was particularly proud of her record safeguarding the zoning regulations that had maintained Barnesville's small-town character. In the 1960s, she told The Post, she kept out a convenience store, because "we don't allow that sort of thing." She was less successful years later in an effort to block the construction of a trash incinerator in the nearby community of Dickerson.
"I guess I just have a very strong sense of history and a stronger sense of community," she told The Post. "I hope we can maintain a rural flavor for future generations, because they aren't going to have any concept, unless they read in history books, about small towns. Well, of course, everybody can go and take a look at Williamsburg, but that's not real life."
Elizabeth Ray Hays was born Dec. 5, 1925. Her father, a descendent of the surveyor of Barnesville in the 1700s, was a dairy farmer, and her mother was a schoolteacher.
Mrs. Tolbert graduated in 1942 from what is now St. Mary's College of Maryland. She attended the District's Garfield Hospital nursing school but had to drop out after contracting pneumonia, her daughter said.
She married in 1946 and accompanied her husband, Samuel H. Tolbert, on Air Force assignments in Europe and across the United States before running for mayor of Barnesville. She told The Post that she had come "home to roost."
Mrs. Tolbert represented the third generation in her father's family to serve as mayor, according to the Sun, and was the first woman in the family to hold the job. She didn't seem to make much of the latter distinction.
"I am not a bra-burning women's libber," she told The Post. "I enjoy being the mayor but I don't think I'm doing any better job than a man can do."
Her husband, who retired as an Air Force colonel, died in 1981. Survivors include four children, Eleanor Lawrence of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Frederick Tolbert of Germantown, Md., Richard Tolbert of Barnesville and John Tolbert of Maui, Hawaii; a sister, Mary White Lok of Barnesville; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Mrs. Tolbert took pride in the reputation she had built even beyond her small community.
"Sometimes a few of the larger city mayors take the attitude, ‘What does this country woman know?' " Mrs. Tolbert told The Post.
"I've learned a lot of things from big-city mayors," she continued. "I've learned a lot of things I don't want to happen to my town."
Profiles - "Lib Tolbert: She's Still the One"
Monocacy Monocle, by Rande Davis
Ever notice how nearly every successful team has a go-to guy? You know, the kind of guy who in the clutch always seems to come through. (Relax, our use of guy in this case is gender-neutral, as in "hey, you guys.") The truly great teams have more than one go-to guy. In Barnesville, however, they have one who really stands out.
For over half a century, the residents of Barnesville have known who their go-to guy is, the one they trust the most to "git-r-done." In that town, the guy (or gal, if you really insist) is the Mayor Emeritus, Elizabeth Hays Tolbert, known affectionately as Lib. That someone from the Hays family is a key leader in Barnesville would not surprise anybody who has lived in the town anytime within the last two hundred and sixty-nine years.
Barnesville is a historically rich tobacco farm region that was originally identified and surveyed in 1747 by one of Lib's ancestors, Jeremiah Hays. We think the town would be more appropriately named if it were called Haysville, though. Barnesville got its name when the Maryland General Assembly created the town in 1811, and named it after William Barnes who just happened to build the first home there. Mr. Barnes grew weary of the town, though, moved to a place in Ohio, and subsequently got Ohio to name that area in Belmont County after him. Excuse us if we think naming one town per person is the max. William
can have the Ohio Barnesville, we happen to think the Hays family got robbed.
So while Jeremiah Hays first surveyed the town, and Leonard Hays built the first store in town, we won't forget that there was this other gentleman who was a magistrate for many years, Abraham S. Hays. Then again, we shouldn't forget a formidable town academic named Edward Hays, either. When Lib Tolbert's dad lived in Barnesville, practically every house in town was owned by a Hays. Therefore, for the record, we proclaim that from now on Barnesville should be known as Haysville.
The real point of all this is to point to the real importance of Lib Tolbert to this town, the surrounding area, and subsequently, the entire state. When Lib's parents passed on, she got the house in which she was born, and her sister, Mary White Lok, got the farm. Over the years, the decades, and even the centuries, important civic meetings have been held in the living room of Lib's 1797 farmhouse. Lib's mother was a Ray before marrying a Hays. The Ray's family history goes back to Texas and Virginia.
When Lib's grandfather, Ennis Ray, was a lieutenant colonel in the D. C. National Guard in the mid-1860s, he took his militia over the Potomac River to join the South. He ended up in prison for treason, and the only reason he wasn't hanged was because the patriarch of the Blair family (Blair House adjacent to the White House) intervened on his behalf.
Lib's namesake and grandmother, Elizabeth, was very dear to her. Grandmother Elizabeth was twenty years old when she and her husband, who was sixty years old, married. Her direct approach to life taught Lib everyday lessons of life (like learning to drink like a lady) and is most likely where Lib inherited much of her straight-to-the-point demeanor. Lib's memories of her early days visiting her grandparents' thoroughbred horse farm in Virginia bring back many heartwarming memories.
Lib attended school first in Barnesville in a building that had classes up to sixth grade across from the present Barnesville Baptist Church. Lib's mother taught in this school. In Lib's classroom, the first row of students was first graders; the second row was second graders, etc. Discipline in her mother's classroom was simple. "Mother always made the students who misbehaved clean the privies as punishment." The privies in those days were two outhouses, one for the girls and one for the boys. This cleaning duty was all they needed to maintain control.
When Lib was in the fourth grade, the Barnesville School was closed, and she was sent to a school in Poolesville. After her junior year, she was sent by her parents to board at St. Mary's Female Seminary in Leonardtown (today's St. Mary's College.) Lib became a cadet in a nursing program in Garfield Hospital but didn't practice that career very long since she met the cousin of a close friend named Sam Tolbert. He was an air force major from Atlanta, Georgia stationed at Bolling. Lib cannot be sure if it was his rank or his uniform, but whatever it was, he certainly "set the barracks on fire."
In 1945, this twenty-year-old got married in the same house in which she had been born. When they moved to Germany in the 1950s, Sam continued his service to the country as an intelligence officer whose group became renowned for Operation Paperclip, a project aft er WWII where victorious Russian and American intelligence teams began a treasure hunt throughout occupied Germany for military and scientific booty. After serving in Germany and London and other various stateside duty stations, they returned to the Pentagon and Barnesville.
Family is obviously the most important thing in Lib's life. You can still hear her heartstrings strain when she speaks of her brother Fred, who left George Washington Law School in service to his country and was killed in the Korean War. "He always had plans to become a farmer, a lawyer, and then governor of the state of Maryland." Lib and Sam had four children, Eleanor, the oldest, and brothers Fred, Richard, and John.
When Lib speaks of their successes, she speaks with the excitement found only in the voice of a mother's love. Family for Lib is not restricted to bloodlines. One of her dearest friends is Dorothy Hallman, a friend she thinks of as family, who has been with her all of her life.
Lib's political life began in the 1930s when her Uncle Shirley ran for the House of Delegates. "I had a bumper sticker on my bike: R. S. Hays for Delegate." He won, of course. From there, her political interest was honed at the family dining room table over family discussions. She is a proud Roosevelt Democrat who exudes a warm sense of bipartisanship in acknowledgement of relatives who went the other way. Her husband, Sam, finally registered to vote just so he could cast a ballot for Barry Goldwater.
She has been the president of the PTA and on the board at Prospect Hall. She started out as a Democrat precinct chair and was twice elected as a delegate to the Democratic national convention in 1992 and 1996. Her participation and leadership in countless committees and civic organizations are just part of the public record. She laughed uproariously when I quizzed her about her long-term political machine in Barnesville and wanted to know if she could compare it to Mayor Daley in Chicago.
A highlight as mayor came when she was invited to the White House in the 1980s as part of a mayoral conference on transportation funding for cities. After arriving at the 17th Street White House entrance, she was escorted into a room filled with mayors from large cities like San Antonio, Kansas City, and Atlanta. When she met the mayor of Atlanta, they got to talking, and he asked her about the size of her staff . She informed him she had a staff that pretty much consisted of one person—herself. The Atlanta mayor was a bit confused but asked about Barnesville by saying that he "knew of Baltimore in Maryland but had not learned of Barnesville." He then asked how large it was, and she told him one hundred and fifty-four. He thought about that and concluded that 154,000 was quite a nice-sized city. "No," said Lib, "just 154 people." With that, some silence fell on the group, but Lib just smiled and told them to just enjoy the moment because "she knew she did."
For thirty-four years when Barnesville needed trusted leadership, the town turned to Lib. When various conservation groups sought leadership, they turned to her. More recently, she chaired the committee on rustic roads in the county. Most people who know her acknowledge that she speaks her mind directly and provides guidance with timeless wisdom and integrity.
At eighty-one years of age, when most others would be quite happy to simply spend their days quietly, Lib doesn't shy from the call of her community. When the Montgomery County Council needed a chairperson of an ad hoc advisory committee to research, discuss, and come up with suggestions to preserving the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve, they went to the leader they had learned to count on in the past. They turned to Lib. Uncertain as to whether she wanted to do it or not, a friend encouraged her by saying she should do it, if for no other reason than that she would have fun.
In Montgomery County, the go-to guy is still Lib Tolbert. After all these years, as the song says, she's still the one, and we're still having fun.
Frederick Sprigg Hays (1893 - 1973)
Eleanor Merryman Ray Hays (1899 - 1994)
Samuel Harold Tolbert (1917 - 1981)
Frederick Sprigg Hays Tolbert (1954 - 2016)*
Elizabeth Ray Hays Tolbert (1925 - 2014)
Frederick Sprigg Hays (1928 - 1952)*
Plot: Central Avenue North, Lot 12, Site 11
Created by: Jane Hatch
Record added: Feb 19, 2014
Find A Grave Memorial# 125337247