Beverly Byron's life took a dramatic turn 15 years ago when she took over her husband's Western Maryland congressional seat following his sudden death. Now she is making another major career change: She's entering the world of business.
The seven-term congresswoman has formed a partnership with George S. Wills, president of Wills & Associates of Baltimore. They are combining their skills to serve as consultants and provide public relations, government affairs and corporation communication services to clients in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Mrs. Byron, 61, is not certain where her new profession will lead, but she knows where she doesn't want it to go. "I don't want to be lobbying Congress," she said. But that doesn't mean she will not be tapping into the expertise and contacts she developed during her 14 years of public service.
"Beverly has broad experience in government policies issues that could generate new business opportunities, and she serves on a number of corporate boards, including Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. and UNC Inc.," Mr. Wills, 57, said.
Although Mrs. Byron is best known for her membership on the House Armed Services Committee, she said that role involved her with such issues as health care, child care and the environment. She feels that there is a market for her knowledge in these areas.
"One of the things I did during my 14 years in Congress was look at the DOD [Department of De fense] health care program and find areas where we could cut costs," she said.
She thinks she can also offer guidance and advice to companies in providing child-care facilities for workers.
Her experience in this field stems from legislation she sponsored to upgrade and make uniform regulations applying to child-care facilities at military bases around the country.
On another front, Mrs. Byron said she is working with a team of former military officials who are looking to go into the republics of the former Soviet Union and provide medical, communication and transportation assistance.
Her role is to help cut through the red tape and bring together potential business partners. "Part of the problem in Russia," she said, "is that nobody knows who to talk to" in trying to establish new business arrangements.
In this business partnership, she joins a longtime friend -- they first worked together as officers of the Maryland Young Democrats club during the Kennedy administration. Mr. Wills sees other benefits of their latest venture.
"Mrs. Byron is a remarkable resource in terms of her knowledge of the defense industry, not just in Maryland but in other states," he said.
He cited her recent tenure on the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, the group that determined which military bases should be closed.
Mr. Wills said the partnership can draw on Mrs. Byron's knowledge of military installations and serve as consultants to communities that are affected by a closing. "We could be the strategist that might work for a community, city or state to advise them on how to adjust to a fort closing," he said.
Their services could include an assessment of the economic impact on the region of a base closing, the number of job losses and what new businesses might come in.
"We could advise them on marketing their assets to find new uses for the property and attract new tenants," he said.
Although they will work together on certain projects, Mrs. Byron will not be on the staff of Wills and Associates.
"I'm not looking for a full-time job," she said. "I don't want to be tied down to a 40-hour-a-week job or have somebody with a time clock say 'It's five minutes after 9, you're late.' "
Under terms of their business relationship, Mrs. Byron will be paid from the proceeds of new business that she generates, Mr. Wills said.
Mr. Wills, a native Baltimorean, began his professional career as director of public relations for the Johns Hopkins University. He served as vice president of the Washington office of Hill and Knowlton Inc., a public relations firm, and founded his own company in 1978.
Wills & Associates has eight full-time employees and provides communication, public relations and government relations services. Current clients include Newstar Inc., a merchant banking firm founded by Howard H. Baker Jr., former Senate majority leader and White House chief of staff under President Bush, that does business in Russia; First National Bank of Maryland; UNC Inc., and United Parcel Service.
Mrs. Byron has remarried and has homes in Washington and in Frederick. She lost her bid for an eighth term as the representative from Maryland's 6th District in the primary election last year to Tom H. Hattery, a Mount Airy farmer who attacked her acceptance of a $35,000 congressional pay raise ++ and her willingness to take taxpayer-financed foreign trips. Mr. Hattery lost the general election.
Although she misses certain aspects of her years in the Congress, including the power and the people she was associated with, Mrs. Byron insists that her political career is over.
"I think I've served my time," she said. "There are a lot of other good candidates out there."
In explanation of her new job, Mrs. Byron says it is difficult for someone who has been active to adjust to life after Congress.
"I don't think I'm old enough to go into retirement," she said. "I don't play bridge and I've already served as president of the garden club."