• Marc Wachter

John Byrne: Legacy of the Forest

Updated: Apr 9, 2019

A sepia photograph slowly gives way to color. It is the dogs days of summer in Chicago - July 26th 1955. The sounds of a baseball game grow larger in the background, the smell of popcorn, peanuts, and hot dogs floats on the breeze. Among the cacophony of the crowd, a radio announcer emerges - it is the voice of Bob Elson.

"...and that is going to bring up the pitcher, Tommy Byrne. And that is the fifth strike-out. And if someone had told you a year ago that at this stage of the '55 pennant race that Byrne would be winning the ball game and Turley and Ford would be getting shellacked and knocked out time after time, you would have said they were crazy but that is exactly what is happening."

-Classic Baseball on the Radio,

Sitting in the stands would have been a young boy named John Byrne. Perhaps thinking of a cool respite below a mighty oak on the campus of Wake Forest College, his father's alma mater, just one year shy of it's relocation to Winston-Salem, NC.

Tommy Byrne, who would become the Mayor of Wake Forest ('73-'87) and namesake of the Wake Forest High School Tommy Byrne Award, is the father of 2019 Wake Forest High School's Hall of Fame Inductee John Byrne.

I introduce Tommy Byrne so as to to set the stage of the athletic and selfless public service legacy that his son, inductee John Byrne, built upon through his days at Wake Forest High School and continues to build upon today as Mayor of Fuquay-Varina.

MW: The "Byrne" name carries some weight in the town of Wake Forest, your father, Tommy Byrne, served as Mayor while you were in school at Wake Forest, your successes in high school, and now your induction into the Hall of Fame. Did know then that you wanted to pursue a career in public service?

JB: Watching my parents helping their community My father as Mayor and my mother as a Wake County School Board member was a great experience. 

You have to think bigger than just yourself. A Community is much like a team sport it comes down to helping your community be all it can be and taking the politics out of it. Much like a good Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club or Rotary Club does. Both of my parents were long term thinkers and tried to plan for the future; figuring out a way for the future of your community. Being a good Mayor requires being a good listener and caring for your team and community. Customer service is always in the forefront if any business or town is going to be successful it starts with the Mayor and flows through the organization.

I just wanted to help our downtown be successful, I came to Fuquay-Varina to work at Fidelity Bank located in our Downtown District. I was able to take some of my banking skills and provide Leadership in Historic Preservation, Revitalization and Finance. We have taken several trips to New York visiting the Bond Agencies Standard & Poors, Moody's, and Fitch's. Fuquay-Varina is now one of 17 town’s in North Carolina with a AAA Bond rating.

MW: Did you ever feel that there was an expectation to follow the footsteps of the diamond rather than that of the boards?

JB: Basketball came natural to me, my father played in the off season at the old Gore Gymnasium I enjoyed watching him play. My older brother played in High School and College and would always invite me to play with him and his friends. Tommy Jr was 6 & 1/2 years older once I got to High School I was use to playing against older and stronger players.

MW: What advice did your father give you that still resounds today?

JB: I remember asking my father once why did the Yankees always win. His response was most interesting he explained it was a team sport, it was about you not making mistakes for the team. He also said it was about preparation and practice.

In High School Basketball it is much the same way, your team mates have to have confidence in you to allow you to be all you can be.

MW: You have borne witness to many changes in the town of Wake Forest, Wake Forest College where your father graduated from, your own town of Fuquay Varina and Wake Forest Rolesville High School.  What advice would you give to today's athletes based upon your experiences?

JB: Fuquay-Varina has seen much change like Wake Forest. The one comparison I would note we had to work though Wake Forest lost the College and during my time Fuquay-Varina has lost Tobacco. Both of these Towns had to reverse these changes in order to survive. We don’t sell too

much Tobacco today we are mainly are selling houses. The High School is what helped the Town of Wake Forest In the early days after the College left the Community rallied around the High School Sports.

Advice I would give just the same as my father gave me. Listen to your coach. It is a team sport and practice, practice, and practice.

MW: Many things change - social focus, electronics, industry, government, education.  Sports seem to be the constant, the stronghold - the link between the past, the present, and the future.  What are your thoughts on this?  

JB: Spend time with your children, let them enjoy the sport they choose. Anytime someone is doing what they enjoy doing they always do better. We use to always be outdoors on the basketball courts, skills come with practice, practice, and more practice. I went to Basketball Camps each year, Campbell University and later instructed at many different ones.

In our interview, John referred to the town of Wake Forest back then as akin to "Camelot". If you have followed previous Wake Forest High School Halls of Fame in the past, or have read the stories of this year's inductees then you are already familiar with some of the knights that graced the halls of this storied town of Camelot. We invite you to come, gather, and sit among the noble and humble legends at the round tables of the 2019 Wake Forest High School Hall of Fame on May 2nd at 6 pm.

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