Until the point of impact, it was just anohter busy day for Martha (Birdie) Byrd. As usual, she had reported a half-hour early to the District of Columbia hat shop where she had worked for 10 years; dusted the merchandise; sold some hats; eaten a bowl of vegetable soup for lunch; done her calisthenics while waiting for customers, and rushed off to catch a bus to her home in Annandale.
Some of her family had expressed concern about the mile walk from the bus stop to her home, and Mrs. Byrd had finally decided to retire and settle down making quilts.
On her way home last Monday, she had scooted across three lanes of busy Backlick Road when a 1976 Lincoln Continental struck and killed her.
Mrs. Byrd would have been 83 next week.
No charges were placed. Mrs. Byrd was wearing a black overcoat and was crossing between intersections. The 59-year-old driver, a federal government employee, said that he did not see her in time to stop. Police said that he had been driving within the 40 m.p.h. speed limiet.
For more than 60 years, Mrs. Byrd had combined the roles of wife, mother and working woman.
Some of her relatives said she was somewhat outspoken. Others said she was merely candid. Whatever, all admired her health and vigor and her seemingly insatiable will to keep working.
"She said she couldn't stand all those young people 50 and 60 complaining all the time, that if they just got out and got busy they'd stop feeling their aches and pains," said a sister-in-law, Ethel Byrd.
No one seems to know exactly where she was born. "just somewhere out in the country in West Virginia," her relatives say. But they do know she dropped out of school in the eighth grade and began her career right there was a teacher. ("You didn't need a degree in those days," said Ethel Byrd).
In 1922, Mrs. Byrd and her husband, Hannon, a carpenter, settled in Northern Virginia. The roads were mostly mud or dust and Annandale was just a place where the ruts got wider.
The Byrds had three children, and Mrs. Byrd spent most of her hours working in department stores in the District. "She was a terrific saleslady, better than most of the younger ones," said Renate Whitehead, who hired Mrs. Byrd at the Carole Ann Hat Shop, 310 7th St. NW, where she worked at the time of her death.
"Shhe could bend over and touch her toes and did her exercises when no one was in the store," said Mary Garner, the store manager. "She didn't eat much, cottage cheese and jello mostly, and never got sick."
"I guess you could say she was everybody's grandma," said Ethel Byrd. "On Sunday mornings she'd get up and bake two apple pies, and then go to church (Assembly of God in Annandale), and then have church friends or family over to dinner." It was fried chicken, of course, and mashed potatoes, homemake biscuits, stringbeans and the pies, Ethel Byrd said.
Life became a bit more complicated for Mrs. Byrd summer when Metro, as part of its plan to improve transit service throughout the metropolitan area, eliminated her bus route, leaving her with the one-mile walk to and from her bus stop.
In response to concern from her relatives about the distance home at night, Mrs. Byrd planned to retire from the hat shop business.
Mrs. Byrd is survived by her husband, Hannon, of the home in Annandale; two sons, Clyde A., of Falls Church, and Charles H., of Alexandria; a daughter, Nadine Leroux, of Florida; a sister, Demmie Pfaff, of Gaithersburg; a brother, John Justice, of Florida; 14 grandchildren, and 20 great grandchildren.
Yesterday, which was to have been Mrs. Byrd's last day at work, most of the family members were at her funeral. Afterwards, everyone sat down to a home-cooked dinner in her honor.