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By Shawn Raymundo

Roy Byrnes, a retired physician who formerly served as San Juan Capistrano mayor and councilmember, died peacefully on Feb. 18 surrounded by his family. He was 94.

As a San Juan Capistrano resident of more than 50 years, Byrnes had served the local community as both an elected public official and a private citizen.

Byrnes was first elected to the city council in 1972 and served two consecutive terms as the city’s mayor from 1973 to 1975. He later was elected to council again in 2012 before announcing his retirement from the dais in early 2015.

Mayor Brian Maryott, who was elected to the council in 2016, said he felt cheated for never having had the opportunity to work with Byrnes.

“Whenever I speak of him with colleagues and former colleagues, you hear ‘gentleman,’ ‘mentor,’ and ‘thoughtful,’” Maryott said of Brynes in an email. “He lived a remarkable life of service and accomplishment, and perhaps he was one of few men that was able to be an outstanding politician and gentleman at the same time.”

Byrnes was drawn to public service at a time when San Juan Capistrano was experiencing momentous expansion and development. During his first stint on the council, he played a role in shaping the city’s first-ever general plan.

Councilmember Derek Reeve, who served as mayor at the time of Byrnes’ retirement announcement, credited the former mayor with bringing the city closer to its historic and cultural roots. Reeve had also noted that Byrnes helped get San Juan Capistrano’s unfunded liability burden under control by making modifications to the city’s employee pension system.

When Byrnes, who was an avid ceramics collector, announced his retirement from the council, he explained that he was leaving to study Chinese ceramics of the Ming Dynasty.

Byrnes was born in Newton, Massachusetts on Aug. 1, 1924. For his undergraduate studies, he attended UCLA and later earned his medical degree from the Keck School of Medicine at USC.

As a doctor and captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, Byrnes was able to spend time abroad in locations such as Germany and Madagascar. He also interned for a medical school in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.

Byrnes and his wife, Ilse, whom he met on a weekend ski trip and later married in 1954, eventually settled in South Orange County to start a family. Before being called to public office, Byrnes worked at the South Coast Global Medical Center, formerly Coastal Community Hospital, and Mission Hospital.

He is survived by Ilse, his wife of 64 years, their four children—Barbara, Dennis, Kim and Catherine—and one grandson, Justin.

At Byrnes’ request, no services will be held.

This story has been updated to include Mayor Maryott’s statement on Byrnes’ death. 

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comments (2)

  • He was so smart and had a wicked sense of humor. We didn’t always agree on politics AND I always enjoyed his company and interesting conversation. One of our beloved SJC characters who contributed so much to our community ❤️

  • Mechelle Lawrence Adams Reply

    Celebrating the colorful and meaningful life of Dr. Byrnes requires me to also acknowledge the long and successful marriage to his ever strong wife —-the incomparable Ilse Byrnes. Together they shaped our General Plan, developed a path for the city’s historic identity by way of preservation and carved out crowning achievements in hillside protection. Their shared generosity was experienced years ago when as a young city planner I would visit their hillside home with my then-young daughter to see their animals and hear the very loud sqawks of their colorful peacocks. They were wonderful folk who really cared mutually for ensuring San Juan’s 1970-2000’s growth was carefully watched over. Dr. Byrnes was kind hearted and proud of Ilse’s efforts in landing so many city assets on the national register. Especially Los Rios. He was affirming to me as I tried to follow in their footsteps of caring about and working for architectural preservation. They taught me that old places have meaning. He will be missed. He left a mark. And it mattered. My thoughts are with Ilse and his children during this time.

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