Richard T. Byrnes Sr., 98, of West Chester, a self-made businessman, died Wednesday, Dec. 21, of dementia at Wellington Terrace, a nursing facility in West Chester.

Mr. Byrnes founded Richard T. Byrnes Co. Inc. in 1945. The firm grew to become a major importer and supplier of woodworking machinery in America.

Born in New York City, Mr. Byrnes graduated in 1930 from Newtown High School in Elmhurst, N.Y., and attended Cathedral College.

He worked for a while in sales for R.H. Macy & Co. in New York City and for the Queens Utility Co.

At age 21, he founded his first business, Interstate Refrigeration Co., also in New York City. The firm sold refrigeration equipment and parts.

In the late 1930s, he attended the Citizens Military Training Camp at Fort Dix and served with the 71st Regiment of the New York National Guard at the rank of captain.

In 1940, he moved to West Chester to work for Masback Hardware Co. as a manufacturer's representative.

When he created the Byrnes Co. five years later, it was a distributor of industrial supplies and metalworking and woodworking machinery.

But with the company's 1962 move to its current site on Hannum Avenue in West Chester came a change in emphasis: Its business focused on woodworking machinery, some of it imported from Europe.

The machinery allowed big manufacturers to craft furniture, kitchen cabinets, and architectural millwork.

As a boss, he was "fair, honest, and thorough," his daughter, Kathleen Byrnes Jarrett, said.

"He incited loyalty in his customers, which you need to continue a business for 66 years," Jarrett said. "He was always on the lookout for the next best machine to satisfy the woodworking industry in this country."

Mr. Byrnes was a founding member and first president of the Woodworking Machinery Importers Association. Under his leadership, the group founded the International Woodworking Fair, held biennially in Atlanta. It is the largest woodworking-machinery trade show in North America.

He was a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus, Chester County Assembly 1873; a charter member of St. Maximilian Kolbe Council 11319; and a member of Msgr. Henry Schuyler Council 1333.

He was president of Serra International, a Catholic men's lay organization, and was a Men of Malvern Jubilarian. He was also a member of Elks Lodge 853.

Jarrett described her father as a "true old-world gentleman" who was ahead of his time in attention to nutrition and fitness.

"He would read labels long before people did that. Who was eating wheat germ on their cereal in the 1950s?" Jarrett said.

Surviving, besides his daughter, are a son, Richard T. Byrnes Jr., and four grandchildren.

Two wives, Marion A. Byrnes and Margaret Grimmer Byrnes, died earlier, as did a brother and a sister.

Visitation will be 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 26, at the DellaVecchia, Reilly, Smith & Boyd Funeral Home Inc. 410 N. Church St., West Chester.

A Funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27, at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church, 15 E. Pleasant Grove Rd., West Chester. Burial will be in St. Agnes Cemetery, West Chester.

Contact staff writer Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232 or bcook@phillynews.com.