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So Long to a Friend

Centreville High secretary Barbara Meyer retires.

The new school year starts next week at Centreville High — but not for Barbara Meyer. The school's former front-office secretary and girls gymnastics coach is moving away.

Her own children are grown, and she and her husband Dan are leaving Little Rocky Run — where they've lived for 17 years — and heading for Lake Anna, about 90 minutes south of here. And although she'll miss everyone at Centreville, she says now's the right time to go.

"The kids are on their own, and we've dreamed of building a house on the water, our whole lives," said Meyer. "We found some property and bought it, and the house is now being built. We hope to move in by the end of October."

Centreville's already hired her replacement, but those to whom she was closest there miss her already. "I can't say enough good things about her," said Susi Willey, the principal's administrative assistant. "I couldn't have made it here without her. She kept me sane and helped me learn my job."

Even on Meyer's first day of retirement, last Saturday, she couldn't stay away. "I was in here working, and she came in and helped me," said Willey. "I didn't call her — that's just the type of person and friend she is."

WILLEY ALSO praised Meyer's ability to listen to people and handle situations gracefully. "I'm so sad," she added. "Her leaving is a real loss to the school."

Director of Student Activities Jimmy Sanabria has known Meyer for all 10 years he's been there. He taught her daughter sociology and her son, U.S. government, and he called Meyer a fabulous person. "She's helped the entire school, community and me, without blinking an eye," he said. "And she's been a very successful gymnastics coach."

Besides her school duties, said Sanabria, Meyer also volunteered as a parent to help the teachers and even worked the concession stands at Centreville's football, basketball and baseball games. "All the kids love her — we're really going to miss her here," he said. "She's one of the kindest people that ever worked [at this school]. She was one of the first people everyone saw when they walked in, so part of our reputation as a nice school with nice people comes from her."

Carol Herr, a part-time clerical employee and volunteer at Centreville, first met Meyer a decade ago, at church, and taught her son's confirmation class. "She has been a great friend, neighbor and co-worker, and I love and respect her," said Herr. "No two days are alike at Centreville High. The front office is a place where first impressions happen, and Barb had a special way of remaining calm, collected and professional."

She said Meyer lent a sympathetic ear to anxious parents and students expressing their concerns while emphasizing the staff's ability to help and guide them. "Barb encouraged students to get involved in their school," said Herr. "She hugged sports players before important games and attended games when she could. She supported the performing arts, encouraging everyone to attend, and she loved being surrounded by the wonderful visual arts displayed in the front office."

Meyer was born in Munich, Germany; her dad was in the U.S. Army and her mom was German. She grew up in Howard County, Md., and married her husband in 1973, a year after he graduated from the Naval Academy. He retired five years ago, after serving 28 years in the Navy.

HE NOW WORKS for a defense contractor in Crystal City. Married 31 years, they have two children, daughter Carly, 27, and son Kyle, 20. A 1995 Centreville grad, Carly lives in Arlington and is head programmer for Arlington County's gymnastics program. Kyle, a 2003 Centreville graduate, is a sophomore at Frostburg State in Maryland, where he swims and dives for his school.

Meyer became Centreville's front-office secretary eight years ago, when Kyle was in the sixth grade. But she's been involved in the school since it opened and initially included middle-school students. Carly attended that first year as a sixth-grader and went through both middle and high school there.

"I was volunteering a lot there and was a floater secretary when they needed help," said Meyer. "Kyle was old enough for me to go to work." She worked under Principal Pam Latt the whole time and, said Meyer, "She was wonderful to me and to my family. She's a classy lady."

In her job she greeted whoever came into the office, answered and directed phone calls and helped the principal's secretary (Willey) when needed. Her toughest challenge, she said, came on 9/11. "You had to be calm and cool when everyone else was upset," she explained.

But basically, said Meyer, "That was a fun job. I have an easygoing personality, and it takes a lot to get me riled up." She especially enjoyed interacting with the faculty, staff, students and community. "It was a very social job," she said. "I made lots of good friends and will really miss everybody there."

Often, she'd even wear a Wildcat football jersey before a big game. Said Meyer: "The football team was good to me, and I'll miss being part of that tradition."

She began coaching the girls gymnastics team four years ago, and it came naturally to her. "Carly started doing gymnastics when she was 5, and I've been judging it for over 10 years," she said. During her coaching tenure at Centreville, her students participated in the state championships in both team and individual competitions. "I loved it," said Meyer.

SHE PLANS to continue coaching — possibly at high-school level — in her new location and will also judge high-school gymnastics, one night a week in Northern Virginia and maybe in Richmond, as well. She's also looking forward to enjoying the family pontoon boat at Lake Anna. "It's very serene down there," said Meyer. "We love the beach, too, and the Outer Banks will be just three hours away."

Still, it will be a sad separation from her life at Centreville High. "Barb will miss those who stopped by the front office, the occasional visits from graduated students with their success stories, and current students and their high-school escapades," said Herr. "But she'll miss her workplace friends the most, and we will all miss the lady who helped many through the high-school years."