Known as “Uncle Larry,” Thomas Lawrence Eyre was born in Birmingham Township, Delaware County, May 24, 1862. The son of Quakers David W. and Mary Phipps Swayne Eyre, his wholesale-grocer father moved the family to Coatesville when Larry was five years old. The senator attended private and public schools in Coatesville through 1871, his parents departing for West Chester, where he graduated from the local normal school. For six years he worked as a partner in his father’s business, traveling throughout Pennsylvania and developing an astute knowledge of wholesaling and retailing.
In the early 1880’s, Larry’s vocational interest veered first to the stock brokerage business, and in 1887, toward politics. Eyre served as secretary to West Chester Republican Congressman Smedley Darlington in 1887-1888, attracting the eye of Matt Quay. Larry received an appointment as clerk to president pro tempore John C. Grady in 1889, and in July of the same year, became Governor Beaver’s collector of statistics in the Pennsylvania Department of Internal Affairs. Losing the position during the Democratic Pattison administration in 1891, Eyre worked on Quay’s U.S. Senate campaign committee before rejoining Internal Affairs as deputy secretary under Republican governor Hastings.
Senator Eyre represented a major force behind the Chester County Republican Committee, serving as chairman from 1893 to 1894. During the 1897 and 1898 campaigns, Larry vaulted to the position of general assistant to the chair of the Republican State Committee. From June 15, 1898 to February 1, 1899, he served as deputy collector of customs at the Port of Philadelphia, however, stepped down to assist with Quay’s final U.S. Senate campaign. He then joined Governor Stone’s administration as 1899-1903 head of the Department of Public Grounds and Buildings. Eyre’s varied business interests included railroads, contracting, oil, and bituminous coal development in Western Pennsylvania.
Larry served the Senate of Pennsylvania for 10 years, 1917-1926. A lifelong member and organizer of the Quay-Penrose stalwart faction, Democrats and Independents regarded Larry as “the guiding hand behind the (Republican) throne.” Senator Eyre chaired Public Roads and Highways (1917-1920), Appropriations, (1921-1922), and was president pro tempore during the 1921-1923 biennial session.
A controversial matter, Senator Eyre fought a charge of complicity in the capitol construction conspiracy, ultimately exonerated for “never receiving a penny dishonestly.” The former capitol construction commissioner later counter-sued accuser William H. Berry (and won). In Eyre’s defense, Governor Pennypacker realized that the senator occupied a compromising position as the state’s custodian of the Buildings and Grounds Committee but vouched for the senator’s innocence. He immediately discharged Eyre from the position to free him from accusation.
The Honorable Senator Thomas Lawrence Eyre married Mary Smith, the daughter of Joseph Smith of Chester County, November 20, 1889. He was known for his “wonderfully retentive memory for names and keen appreciation for human nature.” Eyre stood as a “proponent and beneficiary of women’s suffrage” and an advocate of equal rights for African Americans: “color blind, with a sincere commitment to racial equality.” The senator died in office of “heart trouble” on September 27, 1926, shortly after his family returned from a European vacation. The county mourned the 65-year-old public servant, a friend noting: “Without question, the personality of Honorable Thomas Lawrence Eyre will pass into history as the most unique in the annals of Chester County.” President pro tempore John Homsher praised Eyre as a “man of striking personality and delicate charm of manner.” Chester County Republican Chairman William H. Clark offered, “Senator Eyre was the most valuable man in Chester County. In my judgment there is no one who can step in and fill his shoes. He has done more for Chester County than any other person.”
Rodearmel, 1895, 1901; West Chester Daily Local News, September 27-28, 1926.; Legislative Journal, March 22, 1926, 1570-71.