TRR photo by David Hulse

As dozens of Whyte’s colleagues looked on Rep. (and former Commissioner) Jonathan Fritz joined a tearful Andrea Whyte at the speaker’s table and asked, “Do you know why we’re all here today? Because you deserve it. You’ve had such an incredibly profound influence on so many people. You’re a beautiful example of what we all aspire to be.”

Saying good-bye to ‘Andy’

HONESDALE, PA —  An era in Wayne County government came to a close last week with the retirement of Andrea Whyte as director of Wayne’s Human Services Department.

In a period when government officials often seem to be filing out through a revolving door, Whyte last fall completed her 45th year with Wayne County.

A certificate of recognition presented on January 10 outlined her history in county government. Starting with the county Area Agency on Aging in 1973, Whyte rose to serve as director in 1989. When the commissioners decided to break away from a multi-county human services agreement, she worked with various commissioners’ boards in its creation. Whyte became the first director of Human Services in 1995 and has served there ever since.

All three of Wayne County’s state representatives, Rep. Jonathan Fritz, Sen. Lisa Baker and Rep. Mike Peifer joined with commissioners, Joe Adams, Brian Smith and Wendell Kay and a standing-room audience of Whyte’s colleagues and friends on January 10 in honoring Whyte, who had earlier announced her January 11 retirement. All three legislators brought resolutions of commendation.

Commissioners’ Chair Brian Smith, who, like many, refers to Whyte as Andy, opened Thursday’s meeting by calling it a bittersweet occasion. “What you’ve done is awesome. All of us you’ve touched feel the same.”

Referring to the audience, Commissioner Wendell Kay said that in his 11 years, he’d never seen a response like this for a departing official. Referring to her unusual longevity, he was certain that there were also many not-so-good days when she had to buckle down. “You were meant to do this job. You’re a perfect combination of intellect and compassion,” he said.

Commissioner Joe Adams hailed the department’s accomplishments, which he attributed to Whyte’s leadership. He said her efforts in earning an MBA (which was not a job requirement) added wider capabilities that complimented her caring, both for those served and employees.

Baker said Whyte is “a very special lady.” She credited her “remarkable humility,” saying Whyte has been “a pathfinder, who completely changed the model for treating people in the community.” Saying she had also come as friend, Baker also gave Whyte a paperweight, emblazoned with a copy of one of the state capitol’s murals.

There were personal anecdotes as well. Both Adams and Rep. Mike Peifer recalled snow-plowing Whyte’s driveway. Smith recalled incidents when Whyte would walk him to the school bus he drives and once when she scared him, having climbed aboard what he thought was an empty bus to talk. While she was responsible for one of the county’s largest agencies, her style was always understated and unassuming. It was not unusual for her to quietly take a seat at the back of the room at commissioners’ meetings when she was not on the agenda and appeal for an audience, which was always granted.

“When I was little, I didn’t say this was what I wanted to do,” Whyte said. “Time finds you the place where you are best used. I’ve been blessed, and I thank God for all His blessings. Look around this room at all the talents that have come together… ‘It takes a village’, but it also takes a team. If not for you and your work, mine would not have mattered.

“I’ve enjoyed every single day. If one was bad, the next day something else would happen. Wayne County is unique. We work together. There’s not a lot of resources, we just do it ourselves and get it done. Once I thought that all counties work like that. They don’t.”

 She finished in typical Andy fashion. “How proud I am of all of you. I’ve tried to treat all with kindness and dignity. I apologize for when that didn’t happen.”

In their last agenda item, the commissioners’ named Whyte’s successor, promoting behavioral health program director Michelle Valinski to human services administrator.

 

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