Cancer claims father of PGA's Byrd

There were many constants in Jim Byrd’s life — his family, his faith, his love of golf — but when it came to sports allegiances, you would have to call the father of PGA Tour player Jonathan Byrd and Clemson assistant golf coach Jordan Byrd ... well, conflicted.

Byrd, who died Monday night at 65 after a nearly two-year battle with brain cancer, was born and raised a North Carolina Tar Heel, playing freshman baseball and varsity football at UNC from 1965-67. But both sons wound up Clemson Tigers, and Byrd loved them and their sports careers more than life itself.

So he learned to compromise — while never compromising his sense of humor.

Al Adams, insurance agent and public-address announcer for Clemson football, discovered that in 1999, when he and the Byrds were on a Clemson-sponsored golf trip to Ireland.

“On the bus to the hotel, we were sitting across the aisle when I discovered he was a North Carolina grad,” Adams said. “I said, ‘You mean I’ve got eight days of listening to Tar Heel stuff?’

“Jim gave it back as good as he got. Once we were watching the ACC (basketball) tournament at his house, and he said, ‘Are you pulling for Carolina?’ I said of course not, and he laughed and said, ‘I just wanted to be sure.’

“He loved his Heels, but also his boys.”

Byrd, who worked for Southern Bell/BellSouth for 30 years, served as president of S.C. Independent Colleges and Universities Inc. for five years after that and headed business development for Columbia-based Colliers Keenan/LCK before retiring, was surrounded by his family — wife Jo and his sons — when the end came at Heartland Hospice.

That ended what friends and doctors called a courageous battle with glioblastoma, a virulent cancer, which was discovered when he collapsed while attending a Clemson football game in October 2007.

“That’s a bad tumor, and most don’t make it (as long as) what he did,” said Dr. G. Tripp Jones, who treated Byrd the past 21 months. “He nearly didn’t survive that first week (because) the tumor was causing clotting.

“But Jim was a fighter. His view was, ‘This is the hand I’ve been dealt, so how do we play this as long as we can, as good as we can?’ That’s the way he looked at it.”

Funeral services for Byrd, a native of Raeford, N.C., will be 2 p.m. Friday at Columbia’s First Presbyterian Church, 1324 Marion St. The family will host visitation Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at Dunbar Funeral Home on Devine Street.

“You’d better get there early,” Clemson golf coach Larry Penley said. “Jim had a lot of friends.”

One was Columbia’s Joe Anderson, who had known Jim Byrd since 1981, when both worked in Anderson for Southern Bell.

“One day I was talking to some buddies there and told them I’d met a great guy, Jim Byrd,” Anderson said. “They said, ‘Yeah, we know him; he takes vacation to win the club championship (at Anderson’s Cobbs Glen Country Club) every year.’ They wanted someone to get him out of there so someone else could win.”

Byrd passed his love of golf along to his sons. Jordan played for Furman, and Jonathan was a three-time All-American at Clemson, but their father never conceded anything on the course, they said.

“When Jordan and I started hitting it way past him, that was frustrating to him,” Jonathan Byrd said in April 2008. “I was thinking, ‘OK, I’m 25, on the PGA Tour, and you’re 60.’ He was still trying to figure out why he can’t hit it as far as me.”

Penley said Jim Byrd was “a typical dad, always finding two to three shots a round (his sons) could’ve saved. He was such a competitor, and he wanted those boys to know they could always do better. But he pushed them in the right way — a loving way.”

Happ Lathrop, executive director of the S.C. Golf Association, said Byrd’s legacy was “his sons; the fact they act just like him.” In February 2008, Lathrop presented Jim Byrd the SCGA’s first Ambassador of Golf award.

Jim Folsom, head of Colliers Keenan, knew Byrd from several perspectives: first while a student at Dreher High, where Byrd coached wrestling and football and taught chemistry and math, then in the Columbia business community and in charitable organizations such as the United Way and Rotary.

“In 42 years knowing him, he taught me some valuable lessons,” Folsom said. “Family was the top thing with him.

“He worked with us two years but left when (grandson) Jackson was born. He said, ‘I need to spend more time as a grandfather and following Jonathan.’”

Pamela Lackey, president of AT&T South Carolina, said she didn’t have to think long about how to describe Byrd. “Two words: dedication and integrity,” she said. “He was dedicated to his golf game, his family and his work with us, and he performed in all those areas with complete integrity.”

Columbia native and PGA Tour member Charles Warren played junior golf with Jordan and Jonathan and later at Clemson. He recalled fishing behind the Byrds’ Woodcreek Farms home, and how Jim Byrd always supported the Tigers golf team.

“I think, of all the parents, he truly loved to watch all of us succeed,” Warren said. “It’s hard to believe he’s gone.

“But I talked to Jonathan a few days ago, and he had a real sense of peace and calm. That put me at ease, how they were not prepared, but ready.

“Such a great family ... such a great man.”