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The Pyle family's star rose as the Internet boomed, giving them wealth to share

As an inventor with limited business skills, Terry Slattery needed to find someone who could help his tech startup blossom. Headhunters told him there was one person in Annapolis better for the job than any other.

Don Pyle.

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Slattery brought Pyle into his firm, Netcordia, in 2006. They worked well together, Slattery said, and by 2009, Inc. magazine called Netcordia one of the fastest-growing software firms in the country.

Recently, they had discussed teaming up once more. Pyle had joked that it would be "almost like putting the band back together," Slattery said.

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It was not to be. Pyle, 56, his wife, Sandra, 63, and four grandchildren died Jan. 19 when their 16,000-square-foot waterfront home burned to the ground.

Their community now mourns a couple successful in business and generous with their wealth. As Don Pyle rode the tech wave to jobs of increasing responsibility and influence, he and Sandra doted on family, contributed to charities and opened their home for fundraisers.

Sandra Pyle's sons — Clint Boone, who lost his daughter Charlotte, 8, and son Wes, 6; and Randy Boone, who lostdaughters Lexi, 8, and Katie, 7 — declined through a family spokeswoman to be interviewed.

"Our love for our family is boundless," the family said in a statement after the fire. "Life is fragile. Make time today to embrace your loved ones."

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Don Pyle spent more than three decades at the cutting edge of telecommunications,from landlines in the 1980sthrough the spread of the Internet and the coming of the cloud. Hesettled into a pattern where he'd land at a company with a solid product, figure out how to apply his outsizedpersonality to selling it, then jumpahead to the next technology.

When Pyle accepted his last position — chief operating officer of the Reston, Va.-basednetworking firm ScienceLogic — the company's boss called him "a consistent winner."

Pyle grew up in Baltimore County and balanced work in a family business with study at the University of Delaware.Hefirst found success in the mid-1980s as a salesman at a modem company in Silver Spring. After the firm was bought by a British company, Anura Guruge arrived to helpmanage its new American arm. Guruge remembered the young Pyle as being like a character out of a movie.

"He was what you would call the All-American kid," Guruge said, beloved by his generally older customers at major phone companies, to whom he seemed almost like a son.

This was in the early days of the Internet, before the World Wide Web. One of the company's products was a high-end modem that could deliver data at what was then a blisteringly fast speed.

Guruge recalled that Pyle made a big splash at the aggressive firm with a $6 million sale of those modems. Pyle's cut: $330,000, Guruge said — big money today, even bigger back then.

"He could have basically stopped for the rest of the year, but he didn't," Guruge said. "It just made him even more hungry and ambitious."

Don Pyle met his future wife at the company, where she also worked, helping run its booths at trade shows. Guruge said Sandra Pyle's outgoing personality was easily a match for her husband's: "Always a smile, always a joke, always a laugh. You'd never see them with a long face."

Pyle moved from company to company before landing at Juniper Networks in the mid-1990s. The firm made devices that formed the backbone of the Internet. Pyle was the company's first salesman in North America; he was creditedwith taking it from zero to $1 billion in billings.

"Don made money almost everywhere, a lot due to talent and a lot of very hard work," said former colleague Nick Whelan, but it was at Juniper that he found real wealth. Whelan said Pyle considered easing into early retirement a few times, but it never stuck.

It was in 2004, when Pyle moved to Laurel Networks, that he finallyascended to the chief executive officer's chair.

Jon Biermanwent to work for Pyle at Juniper and they stayed close, moving together to a succession of firms. Bierman said money did not change the Pyles' characters.

"At the end of the day, they were the blue-collar folks living the high life," he said.

The move to Laurel Networks, like others before it, saw Pyle following the development of the Internet. The company sold hardware designed to expand the ability of Internet providers to stream voice and video.

The Pyles were building their palatial home on Childs Point Roadon the 8-acre peninsula between Church and Crab creeks, just outside the Annapolis city limits. The mansion crossed a medieval castle — Sandra's preference — with a seaside beach house — Don's choice.

"Sandy had a lot of talent for decorating," Whelan said. "All her homes were very exquisite."

Pyle led the 150-person Laurel Networks for just over a year before it was bought by an Israeli company for $88 million. Soon after, he teamed with Slattery.

At Netcordia, Slattery produced software designed to warn network managers of any problems they need to address.It was called NetMRI.

Pyle knew just enough about technology and Slattery just enough about business to make the partnership work, Slattery said. Together,they navigated the tricky relationship between a chief technologist and a chief executive that can bedevil even large tech companies.

Netcordia had been only one of Pyle's options, but Slattery said he had a trump card: His company was based in Annapolis. Pyle had already built his mansion, and he could see grandchildren just over the horizon.

Bierman said Pyle always "put family first over business."

On the day of the fire, the Pyles had taken their four grandchildren to Medieval Times, a family dinner theater featuring jousting, before returning home for a sleepover.

The house was more than just a private sanctuary. It was also a place for the community to gather and the Pyles to help support charitable causes.

When the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation was looking to expand into Annapolis, it turned to the Pyles. The family hosted a wine tasting fundraiser for three years, said John Maroon, a spokesman for the foundation, eventually having to give it up after 2010 when the event grew too large.

"We knew that they were very giving and very philanthropic by nature," Maroon said.

Kelly Brown, the president of the SPCA of Anne Arundel County, said the Pyles had been big financial supporters since 1999, helping to provide the society and its animal shelter with stability. But it was Sandra Pyle's willingness to let the society use their home for a fundraiser that especially touched Brown.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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