Staff Spotlight: Diana Byrd

After 34 years working in Miami University’s dining services, Diana Byrd has fielded her fair share of questions about why she still calls Oxford home. While some ask in awe, others pose the question in bewilderment, unable to comprehend why someone would stay in one place for so long.

“Most people think you should go from job to job, but I disagree. If you like a job and you can grow in the job, and you’re happy there, you can always find new challenges,” said Byrd. “I’m very blessed. I’m very fortunate. I feel like, despite all I’ve been through, I have been very fortunate.”

Byrd considers herself an Oxford-native, living in the area since she was eight years old. She began working at Miami as a 25-year-old food service worker, who was also running a daycare out of her own home. She initially sought out the job as a way to get out of the house while still prioritizing time with her two kids during the summer.

“I just really liked working here,” she said. “I took the whole summer off to be with my kids while they were young. That gave me the opportunity.”

Byrd has since worked as a cook, an assistant manager, a general manager and recently earned the title of executive manager for retail sales & market merchandising. Many recognize her as the manager at Market Street at MacCracken.

“I help market and I help with merchandising. I laughingly say I’m the interior decorator of the retail stores,” said Byrd, with a smile. “That’s my title and that’s what I do, but Market Street is my home.”

Whether as employees or guests, Byrd has a knack for connecting with students. She worked for Miami’s Conference Services for nine years where she took care of orientation groups, camps or anybody staying on campus over the summer. She helped kids with problems ranging from, “I got locked out of my room,” to, “I miss my mom.”

Byrd still answers those calls, but now does so using feedback forms, a suggestion board and other resources to stock the shelves at Market Street. One of her primary responsibilities is to buy nearly everything sold at Market Street, which serves 1,700 customers a day. She estimates that nearly 80 percent of her day is devoted to buying food, but Byrd still makes time for her guests.

“I get to know the customers by name, and they know me.” said Byrd. “They come so frequently that I know what they want, what they’re looking for and what they’re asking for. I even meet their parents. It goes to that level, especially if they live at MacCracken.”

Byrd also recognizes that sometimes she needs to go above and beyond for students, particularly if they’re new on campus. When a parent calls to ask about the availability of a particular item in the market, Byrd isn’t afraid to reach out to the student individually to answer any questions they have and show, “we’re here for them.”

“I try to help them and give them the resources they need. I think we are so unique in what we do because we are so customer service-oriented,” said Byrd. “These parents have let their kids go for the first time. I’ve let my kids go to college. I know what’s it’s like. It’s hard to let your kids go.”

Byrd has been there. She watched both her son and her daughter leave for college. Her son attended Morehead State where he played football. He eventually went on to play briefly in the NFL and now lives in Louisiana with his wife and their two children. He is an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the New Orleans Saints.

Byrd’s daughter was the first to leave for college. However, in the summer after her freshman year, she was diagnosed with acute leukemia. She died 18 months later on Christmas day.

“I think that’s partly why I am like I am,” said Byrd. “My daughter went to Miami. She lived in Tappan Hall. She had just finished her first year of college. Whole life in front of her. My son was 12. I’m divorced. I just feel like being around the students … my daughter is always going to be their age.”

Byrd strives to make a difference in someone’s life everyday. Whether it’s a simple gesture, like saying hello to someone, or just offering a smile to a guest, she likes knowing she made an impact like her daughter did for her.

“She had a boyfriend whom she met here at Miami. He and I still connect. He has two kids and is married now, but he still calls me every birthday she has and every Christmas Day,” said Byrd. “That’s pretty doggone special, don’t you think? To have that kind of impact. My daughter had that kind of impact on me. So, I keep coming here and keep making a difference here with these 18 year olds because we don’t know how long any of us has.”

Byrd catches glimpses of her daughter from time to time in the students she works with. She works closely with her eight student managers so they can, in turn, train and manage the other student employees. Byrd has high expectations for her staff, but that doesn’t take away from the close relationships she develops with them.

“I want to help develop people. I really like to be a mentor to them, to train them, and to work closely with them,” said Byrd. “I’m really proud we’re able to run this type of business with all students, a part-time executive manager and myself. You see we do pretty well and they know the rules. We run a tight ship. We have to.”

Byrd is a workaholic and high-achiever who attributes much of her success to having a “vision” and always thinking on to the next project. She is a yoga fanatic, jumping in classes with students at the rec, and a self-described clean freak. Byrd is always looking for new challenges and continues to look forward to work everyday.

“I would not be the same person I am if I didn’t have something happen to me,” said Byrd. “I always say that I’m supposed to be here because I feel like my daughter, in my mind, is always going to be 18, and she’d be 35 now if she was living.”

After over three decades in food service on the Oxford campus, it’s easy to see what Byrd has given to Miami, but in her eyes, it’s just as much about what this job has given her.

“I really think this has helped me … stay alive,” said Byrd. “I have had a lot of stuff, but who hasn’t had stuff in their life? I really feel like I’m supposed to be here.”


The Hard Questions

Favorite dish to prepare? To eat?

Prepare – I can cook, and I do. My banana cake with caramel icing. From scratch. Yes, that’s it. My banana cake with caramel icing. It’s my signature. I don’t give the recipe to anybody.

Eat – If you said drink, I’d say Diet Coke. My favorite dish to eat is fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy.

What kitchen appliance are you?

I’m a name brand. My KitchenAid double oven in the wall. That’s my favorite one and I have it in my house.

What is the most important thing you have learned in the last five years?

How to be mindful.

What would you want to be famous for?

My compassion.

If you were stuck on an island, what three things would you bring with you?

My diet coke, my yoga mat and sunshine. I think that can sum me up pretty well.

What is one thing not many people know about you?

I’m a landlord. I have a student rental named after me called “Byrd Cage.” The people who lived there the first year named it after me. I used to live in that house.

What’s your favorite TV show?

“This Is Us.” It’s just like real life and about stuff that really happens to people.

Cat or dog? I love dogs, but I don’t own any pets. I love my friend’s and family’s pets.

Cake or pie? I like cake. My banana cake.

4 Comments

  1. Kathy Branch Spicer, class of 87 says:

    I guess we started at Miami around the same time, as I was a freshman living in Ox College 34 years ago. Back then, as a very homesick freshman, the women who worked in my little dining hall were like surrogate parents to me and I will never forget them. You’ve obviously helped many students in the same way. People deal with grief in many ways. I truly respect that you’ve turned yours into a way to reach out to students and make a lasting impact on the Miami community. That, for sure, is Love and Honor.

    Liked by 1 person

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