Dayhoff: Peggy Royston, an extraordinary hero who chose not to be ordinary

Dayhoff: Peggy Royston, an extraordinary hero who chose not to be ordinary
Peggy Royston, 81, of Westminster was remembered last Sunday for her leadership in the community as a public school teacher. (Kevin Dayhoff)

Last Sunday about 100 friends and family, loved-ones, and neighbors gathered at the Myers-Durboraw Funeral Home on Willis Street in Westminster to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Peggy Anne Royston, 81, of Westminster.

Royston died on Tuesday, Aug. 7 at Sunflower Hill Assisted Living in Westminster. Sunflower is a small eight-bed, home-like assisted living facility on Uniontown Road in Westminster owned by Vicki Ryan. Royston had called Sunflower home for the past 10 years.


Royston was not a Hollywood movie star or a highly paid sports celebrity, but she was a hero for many in the community. Her obituary said it best, she was “a passionate and dedicated elementary school teacher, having taught 1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th grades” in the public school system. “She was frequently the first teacher at school and the last to leave each day, always striving to instill a love of learning in her students.” She taught school from 1958 to 1991. She taught at Winfield Elementary School from 1974-1986.

Recently much has been said in the media about the role of “heroes” in our lives. Much of the discussion has arguably been unfortunate. Without police officers, firefighters, EMS providers, emergency dispatchers, teachers, men and women in the military, and public works employees; there is no community. They are the really heroes in our community.

I recently attended conference in San Diego about recent dynamics in agriculture finance, regulations, and economics. The keynote speaker was Kevin Brown, creator of the “Hero Effect.” His topic, “What does a hero look like?” Among a number of takeaways from his presentation was his remark that “heroes are extraordinary people choosing not to be ordinary.”

“Heroes help people with no strings attached...”

I pondered Brown’s presentation on heroes and leadership as I listened to Royston’s eulogy. Royston’s daughter, my friend Amy Schildwachter shared “Peggy’s Lessons” at the memorial service. They are leadership lessons for us all. In part, they are: Find your passion and live it to the best of your ability. Make the most of your time and enjoy life. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Treat people the way you would want to be treated. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. There's no use in complaining, it won't make things better. Give back and help others to change the world one small act at a time. Be grateful. Always do what you think is the right thing [even] when you think nobody is watching.

Carroll Hospice chaplain, Cantor Nancy Ginsburg beautifully sang much of her well-prepared memorial service and eulogy for Royston. Of course, it was only appropriate for Ginsburg to carefully prepare a “lesson plan” for Royston, a dedicated and celebrated school teacher of many years.

Ginsburg herself is no stranger to working with heroes who serve as public servants. On April 10, she was one of several fire and police chaplains featured in a Baltimore Sun article by Nelson Coffin, “God's Squad: Baltimore County chaplains seek spiritual solace for cops and firefighters.” Ginsburg honorably serves as one of the “unpaid volunteer corps of 11 chaplains …” This is “a diverse group of men and women with one mission, whose mere presence can help lighten the mental anguish of those who enforce the law or fight fires and sometimes get caught in the emotional — and actual — crossfire when things go terribly wrong.”

On Sunday, Ginsburg shared that Royston “was born on Dec. 13, 1936 to Clayton and Anna Steinacker. She was the oldest of ten siblings. Things weren't always easy in the Steinacker household. Anna had 10 children in 12 years. … The family was very poor …

“In 1982 Peggy was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, she was only 43 years old. She also had breast cancer. … But she did not let this stop her. She continued to teach [until] 1991 until her health made it impossible …

“This is just a brief snapshot of this remarkable woman's life. There were two things important to Peggy; family and teaching. ... Like the matriarchs of the Bible, Peggy, too, was a caring and strong person, exerting a protective influence over her family, …This was not a hero you read about in some book. … She endured many hardships in her life and still held her head high and was not embittered by them. So, I guess in many ways she really was a hero, with bravery, tenacity, and courage beyond what many of us could do. …”

In the interest of full disclosure, I also serve as a volunteer fire and police chaplain. I am the elected chaplain of the Westminster Fire Engine and Hose Company No. 1 and the volunteer chaplain with the Maryland Troopers Association Lodge No. 20.