WEST CHESTER, PA -- Richard T. Byrnes Sr., an icon of the U.S. woodworking machinery industry, passed away December 21. He was 98.
Mr. Byrnes founded Richard T. Byrnes Co. Inc. of West Chester, PA, in 1945, a company that in addition to servicing the local market, was among the first to import advanced woodworking technology from Europe beginning in the early 1960s.
Mr. Byrnes also was a founder and first president of the Woodworking Machinery Importers Association (WMIA), now known as the Woodworking Machinery Industry Association. The WMIA was formed in 1977 by Byrnes and other woodworking machinery importers who were disgruntled with the treatment they received as exhibitors at the International Woodworking Fair, then held in Louisville, KY.
The WMIA organized the World Woodworking Expo in 1980 and 1982 in Atlanta, which competed with IWF. An agreement between the two groups was reached in time to merge the two shows for IWF 1984. The larger, unified event has been held in Atlanta every other year since then.
"Mr. Byrnes was a true visionary and a kind man," Chris Boyer of Downington, PA, wrote on Mr. Byrne's online guest book. "My early days working at R.T. Byrnes Company were his final days but he influenced me in a positive way nonetheless. He would go out of his way to ask, 'How is your day going?' and finish with 'That's fine young man.' He made you feel warm inside and respected as an individual."
Mr. Byrnes was a graduate of Newtown High School in Elmhurst, NY and attended Cathedral College. He worked in sales for R.H. Macy Company in New York City and for the Queens Utility Company. At age 21, he founded his first business, Interstate Refrigeration Company, also in New York City.
He attended the Citizens Military Training Camp at Fort Dix, NJ, and served with the 71st. Regiment of the New York National Guard with the rank of Captain.
In 1940 Mr. Byrnes moved to West Chester to work for Masback Hardware Company as a manufacturers representative. He founded Richard T. Byrnes Co., Inc. in 1945, as a distributor of industrial supplies, metalworking and woodworking machinery.
Mr. Byrnes, the widower of the late Marion A. Byrnes and the late Margaret Grimmer Byrnes, is survived by a son, Richard T. Byrnes Jr. and his wife Mary; daughter, Kathleen Byrnes Jarrett and her husband Jack; and four grandchildren.
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