Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 4:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 4:33 p.m.
It didn't take winning big on “The Price is Right” to persuade seasoned Sonoma County waiter Daniel Byrne that he lived a fortunate life.
Byrne savored Wine Country cuisine, singing karaoke in Guerneville, his garden, his friends, his Santa Rosa cottage festooned with antiques and curiosities, and any excuse to take a scenic drive.
The 1966 Montgomery High graduate and co-creator of the school's Viking logo died Saturday. He'd gone into Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital several days earlier with acute symptoms of a lung condition that deprived him of oxygen.
The former longtime waiter at the Sonoma Mission Inn was 64.
The greeting on his telephone answering machine was the voice of a TV game-show announcer beckoning, “Daniel Byrne! Come on down!”
For years, he watched Bob Barker and “The Price is Right” with his late mother, Edith. Before she died she urged him to try to get onto the show as a contestant.
Byrne took a shot and in 2003 made the cut. He had the time of his life on the show and came home with one of the richest prize packages it had ever awarded: a Cadillac coupe, a Ford pickup, a trip to Ireland, a pair of designer wristwatches, a fancy telescope and a big TV.
He sold the cars and bought a Saab to replace his beloved old VW.
Byrne was a good-humored character well known in Sonoma County hospitality circles for much of his life. He said in 2009 that he got his start as a kid wrapping baking potatoes in foil at the Sizzler in 1965.
He went on to wait tables at the Mark West Lodge, Los Robles, the Fairmont in San Francisco, The Hilltopper, John Ash and the Sonoma Mission Inn.
Said friend Valerie Stanfill, “He waited on the Duchess of York at the Sonoma Mission Inn. He presented me the apron that he wore that day.”
A second longtime friend, Bob Wishard, said that for some time Byrne was assigned the landmark Sonoma Valley inn and spa's most prominent patrons — among them, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
“He took pride that he would always get the toughest table,” recalled Wishard, who retired from many years of tending bar and cooking at one of Byrne's favorite haunts, Willie Bird's Restaurant.
Stanfill and Wishard said their friends took great delight in decorating every inch of his English tea cottage in Santa Rosa's South Park neighborhood with mementoes, art, second-hand store treasures and such.
“He had art glass and tissue-thin porcelain tea cups, the most incredible stuff,” Wishard said. And there was an organ.
On his friends' birthdays, Wishard said, “their phones would ring and they'd pick it up and it would be Dan, playing 'Happy Birthday' on the organ. He never missed, whether you wanted to hear it or not.”
Byrne also was fond of singing karaoke, often at taverns in Guerneville. “He'd always sing Kay Starr songs,” buddy Wishard said.
Perhaps Byrne's favorite activity was eating out at Sonoma County's envied array of restaurants. In a 2009 interview with The Press Democrat, he offered an insider's tip for getting good service:
“When the server first greets you, tell him or her, 'Don't worry about us. We're fine, take your time.'”
In addition to his friends, Byrne is survived by his brother, Tim Byrne of Santa Rosa.
No funeral service is planned. Friends may pay their respects from 3 to 5 p.m. Friday at Daniels Chapel of the Roses.
Memorial donations are suggested to the American Diabetes Association, 1900 Powell St., Suite 285, Emeryville 94608.
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