Porter Byrum was a larger-than-life figure who enriched the lives of so many people in Charlotte and beyond. Perhaps you weren't fortunate enough to have known Mr. B, as he was called by friends and long-time colleagues who worked at his side with love and loyalty. But you probably frequented the popular Park Road Shopping Center, which he owned and operated for years. Or you and your family benefited from his generosity and the gifts he made to worthy causes, including more than $50 million to Wake Forest University.
Porter Byrum - war hero, attorney, businessman and philanthropist - passed away on March 27, 2017, after a period of declining health. He was 96 years old, fighting until the end of an extraordinary life to live another day.
Porter was born on July 23, 1920, and grew up in Edenton and Wilmington in eastern North Carolina, son of John Thomas and Isa Ward Byrum. His father was a Southern Baptist preacher and graduate of Wake Forest, so it was no surprise Porter followed his father there, attending tuition-free. He considered his college education a turning point in life, foreshadowing what would become his legacy - helping educate as many young people as he could. He graduated from Wake Forest University School of Law in 1942 and enlisted in the U.S. Army, fighting at the Battle of the Bulge. He later served his country in Korea, and also as a member of the Army Reserve National Guard.
Porter settled in Charlotte, opening a law practice built on his unique style: Rather than billing by the hour, he billed by how much help he thought he had delivered to his clients. His legal practice, and friendly ways, fostered the business and real estate connections that helped Porter leave his mark on our city. He bought Park Road Shopping Center, Charlotte's first open-air shopping center, in 1967. We've come to know the shopping center (and that trademark retro sign) as Main Street, Charlotte, USA, complete with Porter's beloved rose garden out front until a few years ago. For a generation and more, we've gone there to enjoy a meal and run an errand. Porter was hands on - recruiting the right mix of independently owned businesses, visiting with merchants, eating at Charlotte Cafe. Long a Wake Forest benefactor, Porter's signature gesture came in 2011. At age 91, ready to slow down, he literally gave away the shopping center to Wake, Queens University of Charlotte and Wingate University. Those three institutions sold the center and netted $82 million.
Porter's ties to the community ran deep in other ways: His long business association with Charlotte Aircraft Corp. gave him the opportunity to see the world, including trips to Asia, Europe and South America. For years, early in his career, he taught Sunday School at Myers Park Baptist Church, building relationships that lasted a lifetime. And the popular Carolina Renaissance Festival was held for years on land that Porter owned near Huntersville. How he loved that festival.
A service to celebrate his life will be at 2 p.m. Friday, March 31, at Park Road Baptist Church, 3900 Park Road with The Reverend Dr. Russ Dean and The Reverend Allen Laymon officiating. There will be a reception at the church following the service. In lieu of flowers, a gift in his memory can be made to Wake Forest, Queens, Wingate or Meredith College in Raleigh, his mother's alma mater.
Porter is survived by Grace Thomas, his caring companion; and many nieces and nephews. His long-time staff at the shopping center, to whom he was a father figure, helped care for him late in life. He was preceded in death by his parents, John Thomas and Isa Ward Byrum; his stepmother, Helen Byrum; and four brothers - David, Conwell, Paul and John.
Deep gratitude goes to the staff of Bayada Home Health Care for the care they gave Porter.
Porter remained close to Wake Forest, whose admissions and welcome center and a law school scholarship are named for him. He also set up an undergraduate scholarship fund to honor his father - part of repaying the school for all that it did for his family. Queens and Wingate have also named buildings for Porter, out of gratitude. And Meredith named a scholarship in honor of his mother.
The Lord didn't make many like Porter Byrum. He used to read and recite Shakespeare aloud. He loved the outdoors, and fishing for bream and hunting for turkey, rabbits and deer. Especially late in life, he enjoyed feeding and watching the deer, squirrels and birds that flocked to his wooded yard. He lived a short drive from the shopping center that meant so much to him.
Arrangements are in the care of Kenneth Poe Funeral & Cremation Service, 1321 Berkeley Ave., Charlotte, NC 28204; (704) 641-7606. Online condolences can be shared at www.kennethpoeservices.com