Willie C. Byrd, 80, of East Norriton, who once served as director of investigations for the Pennsylvania Crime Commission, died Friday, Sept. 24, of respiratory failure at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery.
After the Pennsylvania Crime Commission closed in 1994, Mr. Byrd had his own private investigation business. Then, in 1998, the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation hired him as a special agent. He retired from the New Jersey commission as a senior special agent in 2015.
“He was very detail-oriented in his investigations,” said Elizabeth Byrd, his wife. “He was a perfectionist and would spend hours at the computer.”
Willie Carnall Byrd was born Jan. 31, 1941, in Aliquippa, Pa., a steel town on the Ohio River, just west of Pittsburgh.
He was the second of five children born to John W. and Ethel Anderson Byrd, and went by Carnall, his middle name, as a kid.
When he was a teenager, his father became seriously ill and asked him to help his mother care for his four siblings.
“His father felt that he would be the most responsible and supportive to his mother, even though he was the second oldest,” his wife said.
Because of those responsibilities, she said, and especially after his father died, Mr. Byrd didn’t enjoy a carefree teenage life.
Immediately after high school, Mr. Byrd worked for the J&L Steel Mill in Aliquippa for several years.
In 1966, he joined the Aliquippa Police Department and was a patrolman for two years. During that time, his family said, he became a liaison between the police and the community at a time of great social and racial unrest.
In 1968, Mr. Byrd became the first Black person to be hired as a detective for the Beaver County District Attorney’s Office. That led to his appointment in 1972 to the Pennsylvania Crime Commission, where he remained until the commission eventually closed.
Mr. Byrd received numerous awards for his work and was a member of several organizations, including the County Detectives Association of Pennsylvania, the Police Chiefs Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE). He was a member of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 92. In 2015, Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church honored him with a Distinguished Police Service Award.
“He was not a man of a lot of words, but when he spoke, he had something to say,” his wife said.
After a previous marriage ended in divorce, Mr. Byrd married Elizabeth McBride in August 2000.
She said that when she first met him, she was most struck by her husband’s kindness.
“He was an awesome grandfather and an amazing dad, the most kind and generous person,” Elizabeth Byrd said. “Everybody who met him walked away knowing he was a very dignified and compassionate human being. He was very giving and loving.”
The couple joined Enon Tabernacle in 2008 and worshiped at its Cheltenham Avenue location every Sunday until the COVID-19 shutdown. After that, they worshiped virtually.
Mr. Byrd enjoyed music and dancing, a passion the couple shared, his wife said. They also liked traveling and taking cruises, especially after he retired. Mr. Byrd also loved to read and would pore through The Inquirer every day “from cover to cover,” his wife said.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Byrd is survived by two sons, Terrance and Jonathan; a daughter, Crystal; two sisters; four grandchildren; and a number of other relatives and close friends.
A viewing will be held between 8 and 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 8, followed by a funeral at 10 a.m., at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, 230 W. Coulter St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19144.
Interment will be at George Washington Memorial Park in Plymouth Meeting.