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Meet Cynthia, Deborah and Betty

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Carmen Ashley
July 6, 2018

Have you ever heard of Melinda Gates, Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey? Of course you have. These women not only excel in business, arts and entertainment, and media, but also are known for their philanthropic passion to serve others both nationally and globally.

Have you ever heard of Cynthia Breyfogle, Deborah Stone or Betty Bagtas? Probably not. But like Melinda, Angelina and Oprah, these three women have a passion for serving others. The difference between the two groups of women is the notoriety of their service, not the impact. Deborah, Betty and Cynthia are public servants who are changing the world around them one person at a time, so their “reach” tends to be to less widely known. Nonetheless, they are women whose extraordinary efforts should be celebrated.

Cynthia Breyfogle is currently the Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs MidSouth Health Network where she oversees seven VA major medical centers located in Tennessee and Kentucky, and over forty community-based clinics. Prior to her appointment to this position, Cynthia was Director of the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, NC. During her tenure, this medical facility maintained a five-star quality rating and was in the top three percent of VA facilities for quality of care and efficiency.

We tend to only hear the negative stories about the quality of care our veterans receive at the many VA medical centers throughout the country. But Cynthia’s leadership demonstrates that our veterans can receive quality care and positive healthcare experiences. While I did not work at the Charles George VA Medical Center while Cynthia was director, I know staff who did. One of her former staff recently shared with me his thoughts on her leadership: “She was a consummate professional with an unwavering commitment to excellence, but she still managed to lead her staff humanistically. This led to a high level of employee engagement and commitment, which then translated to better care for our veterans.”

Deborah Stone is the Branch Manager for the Embry Hills Library, a neighborhood library that is part of the Dekalb County Library System in Georgia. March of this year marked Deborah’s 25th year of service to library patrons through the Dekalb County Library System. I can attest to the fact that her commitment to serving others is well-known in the local area.

I met Deborah a few years ago when I moved to the area in which Embry Hills Library is located. This neighborhood library is small but mighty. Its patrons have helped the library with many accomplishments, including record-breaking book sales and a successful initiative to expand library hours across the Dekalb County Library System allowing more people to have access to one of the best institutions for reading and learning. As with Cynthia, it is Deborah’s leadership and passion to serve others that puts her in the Melinda/Angelina/Oprah league. She inspired me to become active member of the Friends of Embry Hills Library. Rather than risk introducing any bias through my accolades for Deborah, let me quote a Yelp review from earlier this year: “The manager is no non-sense with great customer service, she remembers my name what I [sic] read, what my husband reads and my children… Thank you for always making us feel so welcome.”

Betty Bagtas is a retired public school teacher, having taught elementary school for several decades. In the spirit of full disclosure, she was my third grade teacher during the 1982-1983 school year. Since her retirement from teaching, Betty remains an active supporter of public education in a consulting capacity. And in her “spare” time, she manages to stay in touch with several of my third grade classmates and me – 35 years after she left a lasting impression on us academically and personally.

I’d like to think most of us have that teacher who left such an impression on us that s/he is part of who we have become as adults. Betty (or “Ms. Bagtas” as she is still known to me) is mine. While I did not appreciate it at the age of eight, in my adulthood I realize just the depth of her commitment to public service – giving 100 percent and more to making sure we received the best she could offer academically and developmentally. Her Socratic teaching style made us think creatively and is the reason I will always seek to find solutions to problems that seem insurmountable. One of my classmates said this about her during this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week: “Ms. Bagtas taught me how to breathe, to take a break from stress, to make trail mix (gorp), to look up words I didn’t know how to spell, and to read all the instructions before starting a project, among many other things.”

Cynthia, Deborah and Betty are three phenomenal women who exemplify public service who only a few lucky Americans have ever heard of. There are other Cynthia’s, Deborah’s and Betty’s whose service efforts are not recognized widely. I would love to hear about those women as well. Please share with me (and our other readers) those women in public service who are making a difference to others.

Photo credit: thewomensbook.com

Author: Carmen Ashley is a doctoral student at Valdosta State University and is also a federal employee who appreciates those who have a commitment to public service. Her email is [email protected], and her Twitter handle is @CarmenLAshley.

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