By Sallie James
BRINY BREEZES — He was the voice of the resistance in 2005 when a developer offered residents of the beachside mobile home town known as Briny Breezes $500 million to buy their homes.
Thomas Byrne’s “Save Briny. Vote No” buttons garnered national attention, as did his unwillingness to trade a disappearing lifestyle for a $1 million windfall.
The deal fell through, but Mr. Byrne’s love for the quirky town never waned.
“We used to be an embarrassment,” Mr. Byrne, then 67, told The Washington Post in 2005. “Now it turns out we’re quaint.”
The man known to some as the “Godfather of Briny” and to others as “the Bird Man,” died Nov. 3 at Bethesda Hospital after a lengthy illness. He was 80.
Mr. Byrne was a carver of birds, an avid boater, a fisherman, a longtime drum major for the AOH Babylon Saffron Kilts in New York, an activist, a respected friend, a mentor and a beloved companion, said his fiancée, Jean Archibald. He stood 6-foot-5 and was a huge presence in every way, she said.
“He was bigger than life,” Archibald said. “He was always smiling and he was a happy man. But when he roared, he roared.”
Above all, he was a proud Irishman and Army veteran who never forgot his roots, she said.
Born on Dec. 20, 1938, in Brooklyn, New York, Mr. Byrne worked more than 30 years for Allstate Insurance before retiring to Florida with his wife, Maureen. The couple had been married more than 40 years when Maureen Byrne fell ill and died during a fashion show in February 2003 in Briny Breezes.
“She was a model,” said Archibald, Mr. Byrne’s companion and caretaker for more than 15 years. “She said she didn’t feel good and right there she died of heart issues.”
Mr. Byrne and Archibald met through a mutual friend. The first time she saw him he was carving a bird out of a block of cedar. His children said he loved to gift the birds to friends and carved a lot of them.
“I have birds in every window. He was amazing,” Archibald said.
Mr. Byrne also loved boating and owned several boats during his lifetime. His most recent boat was a pontoon, which he and Archibald would take out at 5 p.m. almost daily until he became too frail to go.
“It had a lot of drink holders. That was our joke — it’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” Archibald said.
His drink of choice? A Manhattan.
Brian Byrne said his father was a renowned M1 Garand expert who knew more about the standard World War II service rifle than just about anyone else around.
“He was one of the top experts in the United States,” said Byrne, who lives in Cleveland. He said his father mainly dealt in parts and would help gun collectors restore their weapons with original parts.
“When he got into something he would go in with both feet,” Brian Byrne said.
Those who knew Thomas Byrne said he had a good sense of humor and never met a camera he didn’t like. When TV cameras swarmed Briny Breezes in 2005 during the possible sale, Mr. Byrne was willing to chat with reporters.
Brian Byrne said he recently found a photo of his father with an interesting note scribbled on the back.
“This would be a great funeral photo,” Thomas Byrne had written, his son said, chuckling.
Mr. Byrne’s family plans to scatter his ashes off Fire Island sometime next summer.
In addition to his fiancée and son, Thomas Byrne is survived by two daughters, Kathleen Lloyd and Elizabeth Czelowalnik, both of Long Island, and four grandsons he referred to as his “princes.”