Robert McNeilly didn't know Carroll Byrne before they assumed the rank of Pittsburgh police commander on the same day 20 years ago.
"We stood next to each other when we got sworn in," said Chief McNeilly, now head of the Elizabeth Township police force. "From that day forward, I considered him a friend."
In 25 years on the city's police force, Mr. Byrne's humor and good nature helped him forge bonds with neighborhood players, defuse tense situations and earn friendships that he would keep long after his retirement in 1995.
"He just had those people skills," Chief McNeilly said. "He could befriend someone very easily, so people would want to be able to work with him."
Mr. Byrne, who, among other assignments, led the police bureau's community relations division, the special operations unit and retired as commander of the West End station, died Friday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after a long and painful illness, his wife, Mary Ann, said. He was 67 and lived in Point Breeze.
Mr. Byrne started as a patrol officer in Market Square in October 1970 and later became a community relations officer, working closely with neighborhood groups who would come to him first with their concerns. He later led the division and caught former Mayor Sophie Masloff's eye.
"He was very effective in the neighborhood," she said. "He followed through on most complaints, he patrolled diligently in the neighborhood, and he was truly interested in the neighborhood. When we had a problem, we could depend on him."
The two became friends. Ms. Masloff said she would call Mr. Byrne personally if she got word of something suspicious in the Knoxville neighborhood.
"He would follow through," she said.
Mr. Byrne's wife said he would oversee block watches and was integral in bringing National Night Out crime prevention events to Pittsburgh.
He left community relations, but remained a neighborhood resource. Retired Cmdr. Ronald Freeman said Mr. Byrne's pleasant nature shined during command staff meetings and trainings as well as on the street.
"He was very helpful and always did reach out to the community to try to get them to come together and assist police," he said. Bridging the divide between residents and police was his "forte," Mr. Freeman said, and he tried to boost the bureau's image in the neighborhood.
Besides holding other posts, Mr. Byrne also headed the city's special operations unit, leading SWAT, River Rescue and the bomb squad. He also was a trainer at the police academy; he and his wife would still run into recruits he taught, who would thank him for being so fair.
He remained part of several community organizations after his retirement, and liked to hunt, fish and spend time at his camp in Crawford County, Mrs. Byrne said.
There will be no visitation. Services for Mr. Byrne will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Bede Church, 509 S. Dallas Ave., Point Breeze.
Besides his wife, Mr. Byrne is survived by his son, Joseph Andrew Byrne.
Contributions may be made to St. Bede Church.
Sadie Gurman: 412-263-1878.