Professor husband-and-wife team will retire together

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Queenie and Napoleon Byars, a husband and wife pair who are both journalism professors at UNC, are set to retire at the end of the academic year.

Napoleon and Queenie Byars do not go on adventures alone.

When Napoleon graduated from UNC in 1976, Queenie followed suit the very next year — using most of Napoleon’s books.

Two weeks after Queenie graduated, the couple married and worked in public relations for the U.S. Air Force.

The pair returned to Chapel Hill in 2006, when Napoleon was offered a position as an assistant professor in the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Two years later, Queenie moved into the office beside him.

And at the end of the spring semester, the couple will be taking one more step together — retirement.

“There’s a philosophy that was always told to me: always leave the stage while they’re still applauding,” Napoleon Byars said.

Queenie Byars said they made the decision together this summer.

She was a candidate for receiving tenure in May, but after the faculty approved her, she was denied by an outside review conducted by public relations professionals and other scholars across the nation.

“It definitely made me pause and think about (my options),” Queenie Byars said.

Both professors teach several classes and they have more than 40 years of combined experience in public relations from their time in the military.

“People would say, ‘Don’t you guys get tired of having shop talk at home?’” Queenie Byars said.

“But we thought that was a strength for us because our personalities are different, but our commitment is focused and the same.”

Susan King, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said when the Byars told her they were leaving, she asked what she could do to make them stay.

“I don’t want them to go, they are unbelievable,” she said.

“They have a rapport with students that surpasses anything I’ve ever seen.”

King said she was concerned about more faculty members leaving.

Last spring, the journalism school lost a public relations professor who was lured to a private institution.

“I am worried because the faculty here has not had raises — this is the sixth year,” King said.

She said the search for their replacements would begin this semester. Queenie and Napoleon Byars said they will be picking up where they left off in their travels while they were in the Air Force.

But the two are not looking forward to leaving the families they said they created while they were here.

“We get to extend the mentoring process longer than other professors,” Napoleon Byars said. “You get more bang for your buck if you’re a student for us.”

King said the pair had a knack for spotting gifted students and cultivating their talents as a team.

Many of the student assistants in her office came from the Byars’ recommendation.

“It’s ingrained in them, it’s in their DNA to be talent agencies,” King said.

Senior Alexandra Mendoza, a public relations major, first met the Byars as a high school senior when she attended the Chuck Stone Program for Diversity in Education and Media.

She said they immediately made an effort to develop a relationship with her.

During the third week of her freshman year, Napoleon Byars referenced a street from Mendoza’s hometown and gave her a smile.

She said as an out-of-state student, the gesture meant more than he realized.

“I’ve had great professors at UNC, but I’ve never had professors as involved and concerned about my well-being,” Mendoza said. “Whenever I see them, they hug me.”

She said their departure will be a great loss for the school.

Queenie and Napoleon said they feel like they won the lottery by being able to end their careers where they started them.

And though they will miss campus — especially Howell Hall, where they first met — they said there is a grandson waiting for them in Raleigh.

“To me, it is a happily-ever-after,” Napoleon Byars said.

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