Former Newburyport Mayor Byron Will Be Missed

Wednesday April 05, 2023

Byron Matthews

NEWBURYPORT — Byron Matthews, who died last month at age 94, was probably best known as the mayor who in the 1960s helped save this city’s downtown brick buildings from the urban renewal bulldozer.
But to hundreds of avid tennis players throughout the North Shore, Matthews and his business partner Jonathan Woodman may have saved their sanity during long, snowy winters by building what is now known as the Newburyport Tennis Center on Low Street.
In a tribute last week to Mathews, the club management wrote: “Byron was a force and well known in Newburyport as an athlete, Mayor and major supporter of tennis. He and Jonathan saw the need for tennis in town and built the original four-court facility. When he and Jonathan realized there was even more demand, they expanded the Club to six courts. The Club was created and built with their vision and leadership.”
Matthews and Woodman, a prominent architect in Newburyport, founded and owned the Newburyport Tennis Club from 1973 until they sold it in 2018. They had planned to build six outdoor courts on the same property, but never overcame opposition from neighbors to install lights.
Mike Perrotta, the long-time club manager, said he was surprised to hear of Matthews’ death. “He told me he would never die,” he said. “He was the youngest 94-year-old I ever knew.”
When he owned the club, Matthews dropped in every day between 10:45 and 11:30 a.m. An accountant by training and later a banker, Matthews meticulously checked the books. But he always let the club management handle any issues, even if Matthews heard about it from a club member, who stopped him at Market Basket.
“He respected his employees. I always appreciated that,” Perrotta said.
Kelly Ouellett, the director of tennis, said for the many tennis players in the area the club is “a home away from home.” Matthews made it “a friendly place.”
“We were fortunate to work with him at the club,” Ouellett said.
Joan Drouin, a tennis instructor and long-time club employee, said, “Having been brought up in Newburyport, Byron Matthew was a name everyone knew. He was a legend in so many ways redeveloping the downtown area.
“It was an honor to say I worked for him at the tennis club. Byron was a classmate of my mom, so when he came into the club, we would talk about all the old townies.”
The club celebrates its 50th anniversary this fall, an event Perrotta hoped he and other employees would show Matthews how much they appreciated him.
Matthews served five terms as mayor from 1968 to 1978, after being elected to three terms on the city council.
A Newburyport High School graduate in 1946, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and later earned a degree in accounting from Bentley College. He ran and expanded the family-owned Matthews Market on Maple Street.
He served as chair of the Newburyport Cooperative Bank and was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to the Board of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston.
As mayor, Matthews rejuvenated and preserved his historic hometown that had deteriorated following the collapse of the shipbuilding industry. He oversaw the preservation and restoration of downtown Newburyport, building the waterfront boardwalk and the Custom House.
Working with state and federal officials to bring in millions of dollars to the city, he also helped build the Lord Timothy Dexter Industrial Green, now the Newburyport Business and Industrial park.
After his service as mayor, then-Gov. Edward King was appointed the Secretary of Communities and Development. He later developed new residential communities in Florida, New York and New England.
He was married to Helen for 69 years. They had two sons, John and Peter. For their years of service to the Anna Jacques Hospital Foundation, the hospital’s main entrance is named for the couple.
In 2011, in a ceremony attended by Gov. Michael Dukakis, the city erected a granite monument to him as part of Byron’s Court on the Inn Street pedestrian mall.
“He will be missed in Newburyport,” Perrotta said.
Funeral services will be private. A memorial celebration is planned for later this year. To offer online condolences please visit

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