Barbara Boyd, née Barbara Hamlet, was born in Stuart, FL, on August 29, 1942. After she completed elementary school, the Hamlet family moved to Northeast Ohio. She graduated from Glenville High School in Cleveland at just 16 years old and attended Saint Paul’s College, then a Historically Black College in Lawrenceville, VA. Boyd earned a bachelor’s degree in education, leading her to her first career, as a teacher in Cleveland Public Schools. She met her husband, Robert Boyd Jr., while they were working together as teachers. They married in 1966.
While working as a teacher and as a new mother, Boyd also became interested in politics and public service. She gained her first political experience volunteering for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in 1976. She worked at the Democratic Convention that year.
Boyd took another leap in 1983, when she successfully ran for the Cleveland Heights City Council. She served four terms between 1983 and 1992 as the first African American elected to the Council. Boyd served as the Community Relations Officer for the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Courts, leading outreach for one of the oldest courts in the nation. She also worked on numerous other committees during her tenure.
After Boyd had served for almost a decade, her peers elected her Vice Mayor of Cleveland Heights, and then Mayor in 1992. Soon, Boyd’s community encouraged her to run for the Ohio Legislature, which she did successfully in 1992, becoming the state representative for the 9th District of the Ohio House of Representatives. Rep. Boyd served four consecutive terms, from 1993 through 2000, during which she felt most proud of her leadership on welfare reform and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
In 2000, Rep. Boyd reached state representatives’ term limit, which temporarily removed her from office. Even while out of the legislature, Boyd maintained her commitment to public service through other roles. She served as the executive assistant to the director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, then worked for the Children’s Defense Fund as the regional manager for Northeast Ohio.
Boyd became eligible to run for a seat in the Ohio House again in 2006 and was reelected with 83.66% of the vote. This time, Rep. Boyd served from 2007 through 2014, until she reached her term limit again. During these years, she helped pass legislation for health care, foster care, predatory lending, human services, children and families, kinship care, Alzheimer’s disease and aging, schools and education funding reform, economic development and juvenile justice.
During her second tenure in the Ohio House, Rep. Boyd also served as chairperson of the Health Committee for the 128th Ohio General Assembly and was a member of the Committee of Veterans Affairs. “Practically every Democratic politician of substance sought her advice and support,” colleague Mary Rice said in 2022.
Upon reaching her term limit in 2014, Boyd was replaced by her daughter, Rep. Janine Boyd, who served until April 2022.
Outside of the Ohio Legislature, Boyd was a dedicated member of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland and a founding member of the Black Women’s Political Action Committee (BWPAC) of Ohio and Greater Cleveland. In 2022, Elaine Gohlstein, president of the BWPAC, called Boyd “a trailblazer for Black and other women.” Boyd also served on the Youth Violence Committee of the Task Force on Violent Crimes.
Boyd’s health suffered in her later years. After she underwent surgery for a collapsed vertebrae in 2010, a fall outside her home in 2012 stunted Boyd’s recovery and exacerbated an existing hernia. Poor health caused Boyd to miss several voting sessions during her second tenure in the Ohio House, yet she still managed to serve her constituents and work with other state legislatures from her home. “You serve a purpose greater than just being on the House floor,” Boyd said of her situation in 2013. “You are there to educate.”
Boyd passed away on Nov. 5, 2022, at the age of 80. She was survived by her husband Robert, daughter Janine, grandchild Robert (Robbie), brother Conrad (Sonny) and other family and friends. “Boyd was known for her awesome sense of humor, her ability to build consensus where there was dispute, and to unite people from every walk of life into the space of her living room for delicious food and in the true spirit of friendship” her obituary reads.
Before, during and after her political career, Boyd received a profusion of awards and recognitions from across the state. In 1989, the Ohio Patrolmen Benevolent Association named Boyd Official of the Year. She received the Black Women’s History Award in 1992, then the Susan B. Anthony Award in 1995. In 1998, Cleveland Magazine named Rep. Boyd one of their 50 Most Interesting People. In 2000, the last year of Rep. Boyd’s first tenure in the Ohio House, her work on drugs and alcohol assistance and prevention won her Legislator of the Year. In 2007, during her second tenure, Rep. Boyd was also recognized for her commitment to and support of kinship givers in Ohio by the Ohio Grandparent/Kinship Coalition.
Although Boyd’s official public service ended in 2014, her community’s appreciation for her endured. In 2018, Cleveland Heights renamed Caledonia Park as “Barbara Boyd Park” after Boyd successfully led a campaign to grant Cleveland Heights a 99 year-lease on the neglected land to refurbish it. “I hope that each one of us up here can have half of the impact that she has”, Cleveland Heights Councilman Kahlil Seren said at the park’s dedication.