Barnesville is remembering a beloved “mayor” and resident, Elizabeth Hays Tolbert, who passed away Feb. 17.
Tolbert, who was 88, served as the president of the town’s commissioners from 1965 to 1969, and again from 1975 to 2001. She was affected by Alzheimer’s disease in her later years and shied away from the spotlight after her last term as a commissioner ended. She and the town’s other commission presidents are often called the “mayor” of Barnesville, though that was not her formal title.
Former county executive Doug Duncan had Tolbert serve as his campaign chairwoman in the 1990s. They met when he was a Rockville city councilmember and she was involved with the Maryland Municipal League.
“She was the grand lady of Montgomery County politics,” Duncan said. “She just had a way about her, of making people feel at ease.”
He said she enjoyed sharing gossip about Montgomery County politics, but she loved talking about her town and her family.
Tolbert’s niece, Shirley Prasada-Rao, said she talked to her aunt almost every day for most of her life.
“To me she was just Aunt Lib — not ‘The Mayor’ nor the ‘President of the Maryland Municipal League,’” she said in an email.
Prasada-Rao kept in touch with Tolbert as her Alzheimer’s progressed.
“I didn’t see her very much since she moved into the assisted living home [in Germantown], but the times that I did go and got a sign that she knew who I was, was a special gift,” she said.
In Barnesville, Tolbert would host dinners at her home, attended by almost a hundred residents. The town has a population of about 170, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
“She knew everyone in town, so all the tables were filled,” according to Maureen Dolan, a Poolesville resident who served as Barnesville’s postmaster.
Dolan said that as a female political leader, Tolbert served as a role model for kids growing up in Barnesville. Tolbert spoke at a celebration for Dolan’s 40th birthday.
“She said usually it’s the men who run the town...We’ve got the ladies running the town,” she said.
As president of Barnesville’s commissioners, Tolbert left her mark on the town’s main meeting place. What started off as an old, run-down house became their town hall, a modest, one-story building at the intersection of Barnesville and Old Hundred roads.
Luke Fedders, who is currently the president of Barnesville’s commissioners, said the town is really her legacy. She helped maintain the town’s small size, in accordance with residents’ wishes, by enacting zoning changes.
“She was proud of the town and she was proud of the people who live here...it was a very personal thing for her,” he said.
According to Fedders, the current commissioners have recently prepared their town hall to be an emergency shelter, which will be available to nearby residents who need assistance.
Tolbert is survived by her sister, her four children, three grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Tolbert’s family will receive friends at the Hilton Funeral Home at 22111 Beallsville Road in Barnesville on Feb. 28 from 1 to 4 p.m. A service will be held for her at St. Mary’s Catholic Church at 18230 Barnesville Road on March 1 at 11 a.m.