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Byron Brittain

August 29, 2020

Byron R. T. Brittain (1919-2020)


Contrary to his intentions, Byron Brittain (101) died in the early morning hours of August 29, 2020.  His mind was ready for additional years but his heart was not. Born to Roy and Nina Brittain in Newton, Kansas on May 15, 1919, Byron attended Newton Public schools through his formative years and experienced the deprivations of the Great Depression and the height of the Midwest Dust Bowl.


Graduating from Newton High School with the Class of 1937, he moved to Wichita to seek his fortune and found it flipping patties in a burger joint where he made the acquaintance of Elizabeth (Betty) Kirk of Fredonia, Kansas, who had also come to Wichita to find work. There was a spark between them and they married in the summer of 1939 much to the surprise of both sets of in-laws and siblings.


After a brief attempt to sell appliances to resistant West Texas residents and after Betty went back to Fredonia in early 1941 to have their first baby boy, Byron eventually caught on at Boeing in Wichita where he was trained as a metal plater, fashioning hardened parts for combat aircraft as the country produced war materiel.


Byron enlisted in the U.S Navy in 1944 when a Naval officer and a Boeing manager approached him on the shop floor about the Navy wanting to put Byron’s metal plating skills to use right after completing boot camp in Idaho. Having a Navy base in Idaho was a point of amusement when Byron recounted his early Navy experience. Soon, however, he found himself and his small family in Norman, Oklahoma at another landlocked Navy base, this one a training center for carrier pilots. Byron set up a plating operation on the base and eventually, after adding another baby boy to the crew, he was sent to Memphis, Tennessee to set up yet another plating operation for the Navy. So much for the “Join the Navy and See the World” recruiting slogan.


Following his hitch with the service, Byron and family returned to Newton in 1947 where he launched a lifelong career in finance and insurance. In the summer of 1949, he and Betty added another baby boy to the family, apparently not figuring out the “x/y” chromosome secret to producing baby girls.


During a 60-year career, Byron was active in many civic groups in Newton. He was a Mason, an Elk, a Lion, a member of the American Legion and a Rotarian. At one point in the 1980’s, he was President of the Kansas Association of Insurance Agents. For the last two decades of his career, he was owner and President of The Suderman Company, which he took over from his mentor and the retiring founder, Carl Suderman.


Byron was a fixture on Main Street in Newton where he never met a stranger, a good trait to have in the insurance business, because no one really wants to buy insurance. But sell it he did and he stood by his customers in times of need. He made many friends in the process. While visiting Newton, his grandchildren decided he was a celebrity since he introduced them to everyone they met headed to the drugstore soda fountain.


He obtained his private pilot’s license in the mid 1950’s and, along with two other businessmen who loved to fly, bought a sleek four-seat single-engine airplane. It took very little for Byron to find a reason to go fly somewhere, often taking one or more of his sons to “run an errand”. He eventually founded and became a Captain in the local Civil Air Patrol, which was based out of the Newton Municipal Airport. He once made a successful emergency landing in a farm field, much to the relief of the passengers and once skidded to a stop on the runway after failing to engage the landing gear. Oops!


One of his other passions was golf and for over 70 years he thrashed around the Newton Country Club (later Fox Ridge) and other courses far and wide, losing dozens of golf balls to the water and weeds. Undeterred, he spent uncountable dollars on new golf equipment, sure that the next great thing would be the solution. While his game never reached the level he wanted, he collected some trophies along the way, taught his sons and grandsons to play and continued to hit the links for a few holes well after his 100th birthday.


A talented baritone, Byron discovered the joys of Barbershop harmony in the 1950’s. Forming and re-forming various local quartets. Byron and three equally talented singers eventually formed the “Cavaliers” and became one of the top competitive quartets in the nation. Rarely without a pitch pipe in his pocket, Byron would toot the appropriate note and the group would burst into song in the most unlikely places, often to the shock and/or pleasure of the other diners or fellow elevator riders. The quartet became a popular show group throughout the Midwest and they would pile into Byron’s plane and be off to Omaha, Des Moines, Tulsa, Kansas City or wherever the aficionados of barbershop harmony were gathered. Byron’s somewhat corny humor and instinct for “hamming it up” were the perfect match for their well-rehearsed headliner shows. The Cavaliers also went on an extended tour of the Far East for the USO during the Vietnam War, entertaining the wounded in hospitals across the region.


A fastidious wood carver in his later years, Byron created many beautifully wrought pieces of wildlife which he proudly gave to his loved ones and friends as gifts.


Byron is preceded in death by his wife of 61 years, Elizabeth, (1915-2000), an infant son, Barney (1944), his younger brother Robert Brittain of Houston and his younger sister Maurine Rutschman of Wichita.


Among others, Byron leaves a hole in the lives of his wife of 17 years, Janet (Jan) Brittain of Newton who Byron married April 26, 2003, his sons and daughters-in-law, Dr. and Mrs. William Brittain and their sons Aaron and Ben of Chesapeake, Virginia, Mr. Bruce Brittain and his wife, Mimi Breeden of Atlanta, Georgia and their children, Adam Brittain of Houston, Texas, Brooke and Ty Yount of Stafford, Virginia, Lindsay and Travis Thomas of Savannah, Georgia and Mr. and Mrs. Barry Brittain of San Marcos, Texas and their children, Jessica and Johnathan Burda of New Braunfels, Texas and Abby and Brady Johanson of Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas plus six great grandchildren, each one of whom Byron thought was great and grand and worthy of his love and support.


Due to COVID-related travel restrictions, a graveside memorial service will be scheduled some time in the future when those who want to remember Byron, tell stories on him and give him the farewell he certainly deserves can come together. Said service, when scheduled, will be announced via the Newton media.

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26 thoughts on “Byron Brittain

  1. What a wonderful man he was! And what a wonderful obituary written for him! He leaves a hole in the world for those who knew him and loved him. Oh the changes in our world that he witnessed! My condolences to family.

  2. I never had the privilege of meeting this amazing man. He was a person of many talents and accomplishments. How proud his family must be of him. I know he will be missed.

  3. One of the best obituaries I’ve ever read, about one of the great men in our family. I so enjoyed remembering Byron, and even learned some new information about him Thanks so much for sharing this.

  4. Byron was always looked up to as the parent of my high school friend Bill. And it was always a delightful event to visit with Byron during my trips to Newton When I’d come to see my mother who lived next door to him at the Kansas Christian Home. He was amazing and so admired! My sincere condolences to you, Bill, Jan, and the rest of your family.

  5. My condolences to you Bill, Ardis and family.

    This was a beautiful homage to a very long life well lived.

  6. Bruce,
    Sorry for you loss. We will all get there someday.
    You dad live a long and frutiful life. My dad died at age 69, a bit short by today’s standards.
    You were fortunate to have Byron for as long as you did. I hope his last years were comfortable.

  7. He certainly had a life rich with experiences. I see many of his qualities in his offspring. May your family hold this piece of history dear for generations to come. Peace to you all!

  8. Byron was one of a kind and always made us smile. What a full life he led. He will be greatly missed.

  9. It’s not normal to say, but I’ll do it anyway: What a great obituary! You captured Byron’s humor while vividly recounting his remarkable life. I remember Byron from the earliest barbershop times and, later, the years we sang together in choirs and community shows. His talent, enjoyment of life, and generous heart will always be missed.

  10. This is someone I wish I had met. What a full life! My prayers for your entire family during this this time.

  11. Beautiful synopsis of Byron’s life. I enjoyed reading this. A recent visit with him left me and Rod laughing all the way home. What a day that was. Good stories we all traded, and his laugh is one I will not forget. Thank you Byron for your time and love. Thank you Bill and families for this writing of his life. He will be missed dearly. My condolences to Jan and all the family.

  12. Byron and Betty were always there for my family, especially my mother, Zada England. Byron was giving and thoughtful, and his wit and compassion will be missed greatly and remembered often.
    Blessings and prayers

  13. A wonderful memorial by a son who so obviously loved his dad. I am so sorry for your loss but Byron performed far above average in a life well lived and I bet the memories will fill many family holidays for years to come.

  14. Sorry for your loss.My dad died at age 70. What a joy to have had your dad for as long as you did.

  15. Bruce, sorry for your loss. You were very fortunate to have a good father and man in your life for so many years. Accomplished as he was in life I am sure that he felt that his greatest accomplishment was his sons.

  16. What a wonderful and full life your father had. You and your family had a great role model and you will always have such wonderful memories.

  17. What a talented and delightful man your father was! Losing a parent is hard regardless of how old we are so you have my sympathy, Bruce.

  18. Bruce
    Sorry to learn of the passing of your father. He was a legend and great man in the Newton community. My prayers are with your family. Hope you are doing well. Think of you often.

  19. MY Uncle Byron! What a sweetheart he always was. Every time I talked to him he said “Is this my favorite niece!” I always told him of course. He and my mother, Maurine, were hysterical together. She adored her big brother. They and we all had some good times together. You “boys” are so lucky to have him for so many years. What a blessing! And Aunt Jan you are so lucky to have loved and been loved by Byron. I am so sorry for your loss. He will be greatly missed by everyone who knew and loved him! With lots of love and prayers – Anita (Rutschman) Allen

  20. Bruce, Your dad had a blue “Worry Bird” on his desk at NFIC. That bird held a sign in its beak, “Don’t be sad, Don’t be blue.’Cause I’m the bird who’ll worry for you.” That uplifting notion toward life kept him going a century plus.You are lucky to have him for a dad.

  21. Janet, I just saw this! I think of you and Byron often. I will miss meeting him throughout town and getting one of his abundant hugs. Take care and I hope to see you around as well.

  22. I remember listening to the Four Cavaliers when I was a little girl and they were practicing in our living room. Byron, Jay, Bill, and Frazier, my Dad . . . what beautiful harmonies. They will live in my memory forever. My deepest condolences.

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