Dr. Eugene Dewey Byrd Sr., 84, dentist, activist

July 21, 1997|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Dr. Eugene Dewey Byrd Sr., a Baltimore dentist, had an infectious smile that belied his indomitable spirit and tenacity.

The Alabama-born son of a steel worker, who became an effective champion of many causes, died Thursday after a brief illness. He was 84 and resided at North Oaks retirement community in Reisterstown.

Dr. Byrd "was one of the most focused individuals that I ever knew -- he broke barriers, persisted," said Dr. Sidney O. Burnett Jr., a longtime friend and dentist with an office at 1318 N. Caroline St. in East Baltimore.

"Back in the 1950s, Byrd and I were a committee of two working to allow African-American dentists into the city, state and American dental associations," said Dr. Burnett. "We as blacks couldn't even get into the University of Maryland Dental School."

Later, he and Dr. Burnett were accepted as members in all three organizations.

In 1922, Dr. Byrd, a native of Thomasville, Ala., moved with his family to J Street in Sparrows Point. They later moved to East Baltimore.

Dr. Byrd graduated from Douglass High School, Morgan State College and Howard University, where he earned a doctor of dental surgery degree. He completed postgraduate work at Guggenheim Dental Clinic in New York.

During World War II, he served overseas as a captain in the Army Dental Corps, where he often challenged the discrimination black soldiers suffered. After he was honorably discharged, he moved his family to Turners Station in eastern Baltimore County, where he opened his practice.

In 1961, he moved his office to Dolfield Avenue and Edgewood Road in West Baltimore, where he stayed until he retired in 1988.

Dr. Byrd helped establish the Metropolitan Housing Corp., which provided low-income housing in the historically black area of Towson. Until he became ill, he helped to preserve Mount Calvary African Methodist Episcopal Church in Towson.

"He was one of the most concerned persons you ever met," said his twin sister, Imogene Douglas of East Baltimore. "He was considerate to all and loving to his family."

Dr. Byrd was a longtime member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Baltimore Urban League, and was co-founder and past chairman of the Community Health Council of Maryland. He also was president of the American Veterans Committee and Turners Station Progressive Association.

He served on the board of trustees of Morgan State and on the boards of Turners Station YMCA and Barrett School for Girls. He had been president of the Morgan State Alumni Association.

Dr. Byrd was a member of the Bahai faith and served many terms on the Spiritual Assembly of the Baltimore City Bahai Community. He had been chairman of the assembly.

Services will be held at 11: 30 a.m. tomorrow at the Morgan State University Christian Center.

Other survivors include his wife of 56 years, Mabel; three sons, Dr. Eugene D. Byrd Jr., a dentist, of Baltimore, Dr. Joel P. Byrd, a physician, of Los Angeles and Eric Byrd of Pikesville; another sister, Mamie Louise Beasley of Baltimore; two grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews.

Pub Date: 7/21/97

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