Robert H. Layman, a 30-year veteran of the Maryland public school system who served stints as principal of Glenelg High and Ellicott City Middle schools in Howard County, died Thursday of heart failure at Lorien Nursing Home in Columbia. He was 77 and lived in Ellicott City.
Born in Fairmont, W.Va., he grew up in that state, graduating with a bachelor of science degree from West Virginia University before going to Western Maryland College, where he earned a master's degree in administration. He also studied at the University of Maryland and Columbia University in New York. The first teaching position he accepted was as a shop teacher in Frederick County.
But over the years, he became proficient in many areas, and often was called on to teach math, history and other subjects - "everything but home ec," said Wilma Layman, his wife of 53 years.
In the late 1960s and early '70s, he juggled delicate issues that reflected the changing times. When female students at Glenelg High School wore pants to school to protest an unspoken dress code against it, he took a position unique at the time. The issue, he concluded, should be decided by the Student Council. The 40-member council unanimously abolished the old dress code, making Glenelg girls the first in the county permitted to wear slacks to school.
"He didn't always say yes, but he did try to keep a sense of humor and always tried to leave students with their dignity," said Mrs. Layman.
A few years later, black students boycotted the school after a white classmate was chosen by the faculty as "athlete of the year," and after only one black girl was named to a cheerleading squad.
In an effort to help resolve potential disparities in the treatment of students, he opened the judging process to include parents and students, as well as teachers.
In 1976, Mr. Layman retired from the school system and moved with his wife to Kingsport, Tenn., to be closer to relatives. There he revived a longtime interest in woodworking, crafting bedroom suites and dining room tables, and in later years, carving small animals out of blocks of walnut native to his home state.
In 1998, the couple returned to Ellicott City to be closer to their two children.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at Bethany United Methodist Church, 2875 Bethany Lane in Ellicott City. Burial will be private.
Memorial contributions can be made to the building fund of Bethany United Methodist Church, or to the Hospice of Howard County.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Layman is survived by a daughter, Lois Witte of Baltimore; a son, Carl Layman of Mount Airy; a sister, Rose McBee of Wheeling, W.Va.; and two grandsons. A third grandson predeceased him.