Thomas Byrne was called “Pa” by his grandkids and even his friends.
Byrne, of Dyer, who was born in South Chicago, spent about 20 years working in the Region’s steel mills. He was employed by Republic (LTV) and Wisconsin Steel. “He had many jobs,” said Mary Byrne, his wife of 48 years. “He drove a slag truck. He worked at the airport. He was a street sweeper.”
When companies shut down and Byrne lost his job, “he never gave up,” she said. “He had to start over, but he never complained. He never gave up on anything.”
Self-taught in many areas, Byrne was the "'go-to guy' when and if anyone needed anything at any time," his wife said.
Byrne’s happiest working years were as a custodian at Kolling Elementary School in St. John. “He said, ‘I finally found a job where people appreciate me,’” his wife said. “It wasn’t like work. The kids loved him, the teachers loved him. He would go in two hours before he had to be there and get everything ready.”
Known as “Mr. Tom” at school, he ended up as a mentor to some students who needed help, she said.
Byrne, who retired from Kolling in 2012, provided the same kind of mentoring for his own two children and six grandchildren. Byrne had decided to go get his GED when his son graduated from college in 1984, his wife said. “After all these years, he passed on one try.”
“He was quite the jokester,” his wife wrote in a memorial for his Celebration of Life. “(One of the) quotes he would share with his daughter often was, ‘If ya can’t laugh, ya might as well be dead.’"
“He loved his grandchildren, he loved to cook," said his wife. "He was one of a kind, always had a smile on his face.”