Thomas G. Byrne, longtime cop who headed multiple departments under Mayor Richard M. Daley, dead at 74

“He was always concerned about his officers,” former Police Supt. Phil Cline recalled.

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Commissioner of Streets and Sanitation Thomas Byrne keeps a watchful eye on the city streets for the up coming winter storm on Jan. 6, 2010 at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

Commissioner of Streets and Sanitation Thomas Byrne keeps a watchful eye on the city streets for the up coming winter storm on Jan. 6, 2010 at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

Sun-Times file

Thomas G. Byrne got stuff done, and it got him far.

He started as a street cop and rose to the rank of deputy superintendent at the Chicago Police Department before former Mayor Richard M. Daley tapped him to head two high-profile departments: Transportation, and Streets and Sanitation.

“You could put a brick wall in front of Tommy Byrne, and he’d go right through it if he wanted to get something accomplished,” said retired Deputy Chief Bruce Rottner. “He was very much like Rich Daley — two tough Irish kids who wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Friends, family and colleagues said Mr. Byrne always knew the right person to call to get results, whether it was to address a roofing issue at his Edison Park home or a gang problem on the West Side.

Former Police Supt. Phil Cline was a police cadet with Mr. Byrne in the late ‘60s. He said Mr. Byrne knew how to work the street, and when he rose in rank, he gave his officers the support and resources they needed to get the job done.

“He was always concerned about his officers,” Cline said.

Thomas Byrne, commissioner of Streets and Sanitation, with former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2012.

Thomas Byrne, commissioner of Streets and Sanitation, with former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2012.

Sun-Times Media

Mr. Byrne died Monday from complications caused by chemotherapy he was undergoing to fight cancer. He was 74.

Mr. Byrne was also an “idea man,” according to David Franco, a retired cop who worked under Mr. Bryne when he was commander of the Rogers Park Police District.

When a large apartment building in the neighborhood became a source of crime, blight and danger to the community, Mr. Bryne devised a plan to use a state law to drag the building owner into court and force change.

The tactic was successful and gained traction. Mr. Byrne ultimately helped formulate legislation for the city known as the “drug and gang house ordinance” that allowed for a crack down on other troubled properties.

He retired in 2005 and was quickly tapped for leadership roles by the mayor.

Mr. Byrne’s father and grandfather were Chicago cops, and his daughter, Carrie Byrne, who is a sergeant, carried the legacy into a fourth generation.

Mr. Byrne’s first wife, Linda, died from cancer in 1992, leaving him as a single parent for his three kids, who were ages 11, 17 and 20.

“He was a very strict dad but very loving as well. Bedrooms had to be clean before heading out, and there were strict curfews, but he also checked every day to make sure we knew that he loved us,” Carrie Byrne said. “And he was always around at all our baseball games and volleyball games.”

Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Thomas Byrne addresses reporters during a press conference about winter preparedness plan improvements Dec. 22, 2011, at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Thomas Byrne addresses reporters during a press conference about winter preparedness plan improvements Dec. 22, 2011, at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

Sun-Times file

Mr. Byrne was a car enthusiast who rebuilt a 1952 Ford pickup truck.

The family would often vacation to Wisconsin and find themselves on pit stops at junkyards in search of spare parts.

“He’d see a junkyard and pull in there, and we’d all be climbing around looking for parts,” Carrie Byrne said with a chuckle at the thought of her siblings on the hunt.

Mr. Byrne was hands on, choosing the field over a desk, friends and family said.

He led the Department of Streets and Sanitation during a nearly 2-foot snow event in 2011 that came to be known as “Snowmageddon” and turned Lake Shore Drive into an arctic parking lot.

“Tommy was right there on Lake Shore Drive going from car to car checking on people and on the phone trying to get more resources down there to get people out of there,” Rottner said.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Bryne is survived by his son, T.J. Byrne, who works as a supervisor for the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication, his daughter, Dee Brackin, who is a Chicago Public Schools teacher at Taft High School, and his wife, Ellen Byrne.

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