Helen M. “Candy” Byrnes, who encouraged students to become readers while she ran the Roland Park Country School bookstore and was an intrepid family entertainer, died of pulmonary complications May 11 at her Cedarcroft home. She was 77.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Joppa Road, she was the daughter of Dr. Charles P. McCausland Jr., a Towson dentist, and Helen, a homemaker. She was a 1963 graduate of Garrison Forest School, where she played tennis and field hockey. She earned a history degree at the University of Maryland, College Park.
While at a party, she met her future husband, John Carroll Byrnes, who would be elected to the Maryland Senate and was later appointed a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge by Gov. Harry Hughes.
When her parents moved to Melinda, a historic home in the Worthington Valley near Sagamore Farms, she began to take an interest in historic preservation, history and antiques.
“Melinda always remained a special place for Candy. It was the location of her wedding reception and happy family holidays,” said her niece Christianna McCausland.
Early in their marriage, Mrs. Byrnes assisted her husband in campaigning in Northeast Baltimore and its Northwood neighborhood. She worked alongside him during the 1967 Maryland Constitutional Convention and as an advocate for the Herring Run stream valley. She greeted constituents and ran a mimeograph machine during these efforts and helped raise campaign money.
“Candy had an engaging personality and helped me in so many aspects,” Judge Byrnes said of their political work. “She did it with grace, dignity and humor, even though politics were foreign territory to her. She enjoyed the sociability of it.”
Friends said Mrs. Byrnes liked to be active and helped others.
For 20 years, she managed the bookstore at Roland Park Country School.
“When she came, the bookstore was little more than a closet with pencils and paper tablets,” said her daughter Helen Piersol Byrnes. “She turned it into something approaching a college bookstore.”
Family members said she wanted students to develop good reading habits. As encouragement, she had a supply of small glass fish ready to be dropped into a bowl when they completed a book.
“Candy made the bookstore a place of joy for both students and staff,” said another daughter, Elizabeth McCausland Sullivan Hamm. “She was a natural organizer and enthusiastic volunteer.”
“If ever you needed something, Candy was there to help out,” said a longtime friend, Sallie Trout. “You never heard her complain about anything. She was the type of person who always got things done.”
Her niece Christianna said that as a child, Mrs. Byrnes spent the month of August at a historic waterfront family home in St. Mary’s County.
“In its earliest years, the house had no electricity or plumbing,” her niece said. “Her older brother Charles recalled them spending their days hunting on the beach for fossilized sharks’ teeth that washed out of the clay cliffs and wading in the tidal shallows to net crabs. Candy shared these traditions with her own family as an adult and visited the old home at Christmastime with extended family and in August with her own children.
“When she and her husband spent a portion of their honeymoon there, she famously had to navigate them both safely back to shore after his ancient boat started to sink, a situation she handled with her signature mix of humor and pragmatism.”
A gifted chef, Mrs. Byrnes was a natural entertainer for her large extended family and their friends.
“Candy was larger than life. She was able to entertain masses with what appeared to be no effort,” said Virginia McCaffray Byrnes, a sister-in-law. “She was pragmatic. She did what needed to be done. No nonsense. No complaints. No problem.
“Candy was the empress of entertaining. She made it all seem so simple. Christmas Eve at [her home on] Gittings Avenue was legendary. There was no end to the amount of invitees. Candy would produce copious amounts of food from their small kitchen with such calm that I was in awe.”
Mrs. Byrnes shopped carefully.
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“Candy was always on the lookout for sales at Graul’s,” Virginia McCaffray Byrnes said of a local market.
During family gatherings and social events, Mrs. Byrnes was in constant motion. She steamed shrimp and sliced rare beef tenderloin. Family members stood back and watched her carve a turkey expertly ― and minutes later filled a dishwasher, enjoyed a vodka and tonic, and chatted with friends.
Mrs. Byrnes insisted that her daughters invite their friends if they had nowhere to go for the holidays.
“She was a firm believer that no one should spend a holiday alone,” said her daughter Helen Piersol Byrnes.
A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen at 5200 N. Charles St.
Survivors include her husband of 52 years, retired Judge John Carroll Byrnes; three daughters, Helen Piersol Byrnes of Washington, D.C., Anne D’Arcy Talley of Rodgers Forge and Elizabeth McCausland Sullivan Hamm of Cincinnati; two brothers, Dr. Charles P. McCausland III of Towson and Albert Ross Zimmerman McCausland of Glyndon; a sister, Katherine Foster of Queenstown; and four grandchildren.