Gentle giant Myers made difference in his part of world

Doug Boock
Galva native Derek Myers was a multi-faceted man who impacted the Blacksburg, Va. area for many years before dying Feb. 23.

Standing 6 feet 5 inches, Derek Myers towered over most people. But he was known as a gentle person who cared about others.

“He was a such a wonderful person,” Clark Webb told the Roanoke (Va.) Times last month. “As big as he was, his heart was so much bigger.”

Myers, a 1955 graduate of Galva High School, died Feb. 23 in Salem, Va. He was 72.

Though he had not lived in Galva since his school days, Myers remained interested in his hometown from afar. He followed its goings on while carving quite a life of his own in the eastern U.S.

After graduating Knox College in 1959, he studied art history at the University of Chicago. That led him to a long career as an art professor, including at Knox College and at St. Andrews Presbyterian College, Laurinburg, N.C. He taught at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. from 1973 until his retirement in 2003. He was deparment chairman 11 of those years and was later named professor emeritus.

An avid gardener and lover of flowers, Myers was very active in many community organizations and at Luther Memorial Church, where he assisted children’s programs and social justice projects.

“Getting credit for the job wasn’t as important as doing the job and doing it well,” Pastor Gary Schroeder said. “He was an inspiration to me.”

Not long before passing, Myers  had been hospitalized for a strep infection following a 10-day trip to San Jose de Bocay, Nicaragua, Blacksburg’s sister city, to assess the needs of school children there. While there, he was touched by the plight of Bocay’s children.

“What really bothered him was the thought that so many of these children, because of their economic circumstances, they weren’t going to be able to reach their full potential,” said Webb, trip organizer.

At the time of his death, Myers was a Blacksburg town councilman, having been elected in May.

“Derek was a man with a big heart, who served on council for all the right reasons,” Blacksburg Mayor Ron Rordam told the Times.

“He was devoted to the community’s heritage and quality of life and exemplified Blacksburg’s identity as a special place. We all will miss Derek’s insight, his intelligence and his wonderful sense of humor,” Rordam said.

Survived by his wife of 47 years, Rhoda; his daughter, Meigra (Prescott) Myers Chin of West Orange, N.J.; his son, Robin Myers, of Santa Barbara, Calif.; two grandchildren and his sister, Jane (Andrew) Elder, Myers’s passing leaves a void in the Blacksburg are, Webb indicated.

“We’re just really going to miss him, and the town of Blacksburg is going to miss him,” he said.