John “Jeb” Byrne was a man of many interests, both far-reaching and close to home.
Formerly an advance man for President John F. Kennedy and director of the Office of the Federal Register in the National Archives, only last year . In his latter years he turned his attention to serving the Mount Vernon community as a conservationist and former president of the Friends of Dyke Marsh.
Byrne, 86, died Thursday due to complications from Parkinson's disease. He was a “marvelous individual,” said Gerry Hyland, Mount Vernon District supervisor.
“Jeb was one of those absolutely committed, caring persons who walked around his community and decided what needed to be done and then went ahead and tried to get it done,” Hyland said. “A more committed environmentalist I don’t think you could find. Jeb was one of those people who moved others to bring environmental issues to the forefront.”
Years ago, Byrne applied for the position of Mount Vernon representative to the Fairfax County Park Authority, Hyland said. He was ultimately not selected, but he continued to advocate for environmental issues in the community, particularly involving Dyke Marsh.
When changes were proposed to the several years ago, Hyland said, Byrne was present to make sure any changes did not negatively impact the marsh. He also helped make sure limits were placed on the number of duck blinds allowed off the marsh shoreline, as well as pushing for more parks and the preservation of existing parks, Hyland said.
“He was just one of the wonderful human beings,” Hyland said, “If you met him, you knew he cared about others and every living thing around him.”
Byrne leaves behind his wife, Beverly, and four sons. His wife described him as “an extremely determined man, and this led to many accomplishments.” One son, John, called him “purposeful, but with a sense of fun.”
Friend Georg Morduch met Byrne while the two participated in the National Audubon Society’s annual bird counts.
“He was a wonderful guy,” Morduch said. “He was very knowledgeable about all local things to do with nature.”
Byrne’s mind stayed sharp as he grew older. He actively participated in a local book discussion group and was a Civil War history enthusiast, said fellow book club member Eleonore Turpin.
“He was a very smart person with very keen interests,” Turpin said.
Ginger Schultz, another book club member, said Byrne was popular with the group.
"He’s done a lot of writing in his life,” Schultz said. “He’s written poems, essays, and he used to read these things, and at one point he recited a poem he had written from the top of his head. ... It had four or five stanzas. And it was really an impressive thing for him, and he was about 85.
Byrne’s friends are invited to attend a mass at 10:30 a.m. Monday at , 8710 Mount Vernon Highway. Memorials may be directed to Friends of Dyke Marsh, P.O. Box 7183, Alexandria, VA 22307.