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Joseph Leo Byrne
April 25, 1931 ~ January 24, 2019 (age 87)
Joseph Leo Byrne, 87, passed away on January 24, 2019, in College Station, Texas, nearly two years after suffering a series of debilitating strokes. He is survived by Joan Byrne, his beloved wife of 67 years. He will be missed for his loving presence, kindness and habit of writing little notes of support to family members and friends. As his grandson observed, Joe always made you feel proud of yourself.
Joe, who spent 22 years in the U.S. Navy and retired as a Master Chief Petty Officer (E9), was born April 25, 1931, in Boston, Massachusetts, and never lost his Boston accent, even after living for decades in both Dodge City, Kansas, and College Station, Texas. His mother, Hazel Hunt, died when he was two years old, and he grew up motherless, the youngest son of an abusive and alcoholic father. He dropped out of school and ran away to join the navy at 17 and served as a hospital corpsman throughout the Pacific on a variety of ships. His last tour of duty in 1969-70 was on the hospital ship USS Sanctuary off the coast of South Vietnam.
He placed a huge emphasis on education, inspired no doubt by his own brush with having nearly none. While still in the navy and after retiring in 1970, Joe earned his high school diploma, a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary of the Plains College and a master’s degree in history with an emphasis on the 19th-century Great Plains from Fort Hays State University. He always loved historical books and documentaries and enjoyed having an atlas close at hand in order to check places on a map. If you were from another city, state or country, he wanted to hear all about it.
Joe had a way with animals – his and Joan’s home always had pets of many kinds – but he especially loved German shepherds. He was a sharp dresser, a bit of a dandy, even. His kids liked to tease him about the time he was spotted mowing the lawn while wearing a tie, and his shoes were always spick and span with a military shine
He also loved the navy. The ramrod posture, a result of years of military inspections, stayed with him throughout his life. When his three children were young, Saturday mornings were often spent in “drills” as they marched, saluted and cleaned the house. His stern military bearing also often intimidated his daughters’ suiters, which he greatly enjoyed.
Guests were always welcome in his home and at the family table. Many “holiday orphans” spent Thanksgiving or even just a regular Sunday dinner with the Byrnes at the invitation of Joe, and he always told the same corny jokes. He was a man of extraordinary kindheartedness, who told bedtime stories about Seabiscuit and “the little tugboat that could,” surreptitiously slipped cash to his kids (well into their adulthood) and couldn’t say no to an injured or abandoned animal.
Joe was preceded in death by his son Shawn Patrick Byrne, who died of brain cancer in 2016. In addition to Joan, he is also survived by his daughter-in-law Suk Kyong Byrne and granddaughter Jessica Byrne, both of Cypress, Texas; daughter Melissa Byrne Vossmer and her husband Mark Vossmer of Sherman, Texas; grandson Jacob Vossmer of Austin; daughter Teresa Byrne-Dodge and her husband Cameron Ansari, granddaughter Taylor Byrne Dodge and grandson Samuel Byrne Dodge, all of Houston.
A funeral Mass followed by a celebration of life will take place at 10 am on Tuesday, January 29, 2019, at Hillier Funeral Home in College Station.