James Edgar Byron Sr., businessman, dies

James E. Byron

James Edgar "Jamie" Byron Sr., a former businessman and mayor who was a member of a political family with deep roots in Western Maryland, died July 2 of heart failure at his home in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

The former Williamsport and Hagerstown resident was 83.

Mr. Byron was born the second of five boys in Williamsport, Washington County, where he was raised. He was the son of William Devereux Byron II, a Western Maryland Democrat who served in the House of Representatives.

He was 14 when his father was killed in an Eastern Air Lines crash in Jonesboro, Ga., in 1941, and his mother, Katharine Edgar Byron, was appointed to complete his term.

His maternal grandfather, Louis Emory McComas, a Republican congressman, represented Western Maryland from 1883 to 1891, and later in the U.S. Senate from 1899 to 1905.

Mr. Byron was a brother of Rep. Goodloe E. Byron, who represented the 6th District in Western Maryland; after his death in 1978, his brother's wife, Beverly B. Byron, held her husband's former seat for 14 years.

"We used to call it the Byron Seat," said retired Washington County Circuit Judge Daniel W. Moylan, a friend of more than 40 years.

"Jamie was a marvelous guy and a real gentleman," he said. "He was a lot of fun and a great storyteller. Many of his stories were political in nature."

Mr. Byron was a 1945 graduate of St. Alban's School in Washington and earned a bachelor's degree in 1949 in biochemistry. He was also a 1953 graduate of Pratt Institute in New York City, and earned a master's degree from George Washington University.

He went to work for W.D. Byron & Sons, a tannery that had been founded in Roxbury, Mass., in 1832. It was relocated to Williamsport in 1897 because of the abundance of rock oak trees, the prime source of the tannic acid that was used in the firm's leather-tanning process.

The firm's leather goods were sold to shoemakers, glove manufacturers, as well as companies making belts, harness handbags and wallets.

In the 1960s, Mr. Byron was named company president and was the last member of the Byron family to be associated with the business at the time it was acquired in 1975 by Walter Kidde & Co. Inc.

It was later operated by Garden State Tanning Inc., a division of Kidde. Mr. Byron, who initially remained as president and consultant, stepped down in 1976.

Mr. Byron then took a job with the U.S. Department of Commerce, where he was a leather industry analyst until retiring in 2000.

He lived in Shepherdstown and commuted daily by train from Duffield's Crossing to Washington and back at night.

"Jamie was a real gentleman, very solid and knowledgeable," said Hayden Boyd, former director of the Commerce Department's Office of Consumer Goods, where the two men worked together for more than two decades.

"He never got riled up or was anxious, and brought considerable expertise to his job. He understood the leather and footwear industry, knew all the players, and understood its economics and was highly competent," said Mr. Boyd, who is retired and lives in Davidson, N.C.

"He was also highly respected in the industry. During the 1980s and 1990s, there were a lot of changes in the leather and footwear industry with imports, jobs going overseas and trade policies," he said.

"He was a very good person to have around at that time because he understood all of this," recalled Mr. Boyd. "Jamie was a man of high integrity who when he told you something, you always knew it was straight and honest."

Active in Democratic politics in Washington County, Mr. Byron served as mayor of Williamsport from 1961 to 1965, and had been a member of the board of Washington County National Savings Bank.

One of Mr. Byron's accomplishments as mayor was joining with G. Victor Cushwa, a Williamsport brick manufacturer, in transforming a former 10-acre dump and eyesore into Potomac River Park.

After his 1952 marriage to Lynne Kerwin, the couple moved to Williamsport, where they lived at Still House Springfield Farm. The farm, which dates to 1755, is now the Springfield Farm and Museum.

They relocated to Shepherdstown in 1981 to historic Windward Farm, which dates to circa 1820. In recent years, they lived in a home in the city before her death in 1998.

He was a member of the city's water board.

Mr. Byron was an avid fox hunter and horseman. He was a member of the New Market Hounds and the Antietam Hunt in Washington County, where he was field master and honorary secretary.

He was also a member of The Assembly Club in Hagerstown, Fountain Head Country Club and Rotary International.

"Jamie was a delightful guy, and at social gatherings if there was a piano nearby, he and Goodloe would sit down and play duets. It was something you really looked forward to. They really clicked," said Judge Moylan.

Mr. Byron was a communicant and senior warden of St. John's Episcopal Church, 101 S. Prospect St., Hagerstown, where funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Mr. Byron is survived by his wife of 12 years, the former Snowdon Durham; two sons, James E. Byron Jr. and Keith A. Byron, both of Alexandria, Va.; two daughters, Sally Byron LaBarre of Bel Air and Katherine Devereaux Byron of Shepherdstown; a brother, Louis McComas Byron of Tucson; two stepsons, Kenneth DuV. Tyler of Buckhannon, W.Va., and Richard H. Tyler of Hagerstown; and nine grandchildren.