Obituary: Garland “Gar” Byrum II
Prominent Southern California political activist, author, historian
Local political activist Gar Byrum died from a sudden cardiac episode at his home in Claremont on October 14, 2017, just shy of his 72nd birthday. Mr. Byrum died doing what he loved best, working on an entry to his political blog “Politics from the Middle.”
Gar was well known in Claremont and nearby communities for his wry wit and keen political insights. He enjoyed a good laugh and was self-effacing, generous and a devoted father and friend.
Gar was born Monday, October 22, 1945 at the US Naval Hospital in San Diego. He lived in several states throughout his childhood as a result of being the son of a US Naval Meteorologist. The family lived in New York, then New Orleans for 10 years until his second semester of tenth grade, then Tifton, Georgia before settling in Claremont, where Gar graduated from Claremont High School in 1964.
Despite having moved several times during his high school years and various health challenges, Mr. Byrum was a very learned man, having earned his bachelor of arts degree from California Western University, Phi Alpha Theta, in 1968 with a major in political science and a minor in history. He attended the University of Southern California in 1969, earning a master’s in history.
He went on to earn his Juris Doctor degree from the University of West Los Angeles in 1980. His family shared that Gar was a first-class American Civil War scholar “with near encyclopedic knowledge of historical facts and specifically our founding fathers and the aftermath of this most deadly war.”
Mr. Byrum married Lezli Callahan in 1974 and had two children, Sean and Siobhan. The couple later divorced.
Mr. Byrum was a world traveler, who traveled extensively throughout Europe and North America. He had a passion for the Hawaiian Islands, which he regularly visited throughout the years on family vacations and with friends. Anyone who was headed to Hawaii would be advised by Gar to make a special trip to his favorite restaurant, Mama’s Fish House on Maui.
Mr. Byrum was an accomplished independent insurance broker since 1974 and was a prolific political activist, author and community organizer. He was approached to be a freedom rider during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and worked on Robert Kennedy’s campaign.
Following Mr. Kennedy’s death, Mr. Byrum took a step back from politics, but returned with ardor in 1994 to campaign for inter-district transfers from the Pomona Unified School District. His involvement in that effort resulted in a run for the PUSD school board.
Many students who previously had not been allowed to attend Troy High School, a magnet school in Fullerton, because they lived outside of the school district, were able to attend as a result of Mr. Byrum’s tireless efforts, his daughter noted.
Mr. Byrum was a single father to his two children and once his daughter left home to attend college, he returned to his career as an insurance agent, this time with an emphasis on helping seniors. Professionally, he was considered a senior expert, who specialized in Medicare and long-term care, among other senior concerns.
Mr. Byrum again returned to politics and became the driving force in many Democratic campaigns and political organizations over the last 13 years. He was co-founder and an executive board member of The American Institute for Progressive Democracy (TAIPD), president and most recently vice president in charge of programming of the Democratic Club of Claremont, the program chair of the La Cañada-Crescenta Democratic Club, an executive board member of Congressman Adam B. Schiff’s USA Political Action Committee, regional headquarters manager of the Democratic National Committee and delegate at the Democratic National Convention in 2008. He was also an elected board member of the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee from 2004 to 2008.
“We will miss Gar’s inimitable personality and enthusiasm for all things Democratic,” John Forney, president of the Democratic Club of Claremont shared with members. “Let us dedicate our work in this upcoming campaign season to Gar’s unstinting efforts to elect Democrats and return this nation to one that has a heart for the common good.”
For over a decade, Mr. Byrum was an integral part of several Democratic political campaigns at the local, state and national levels. He also worked as a campaign consultant and volunteer.
Fellow TAIPD board member Sandy Hester met Mr. Byrum through politics but ultimately found a dear friend.
“We will miss his presence in our lives as we move forward with his spirit beside us. I will never forget his influence on our world and his friendship in my life,” Ms. Hester shared. “He was my brother-in-arms.”
Mr. Byrum was seen regularly tabling and registering voters at local farmers markets, the LA County Fair and at many Claremont city events. Locals may remember him best stationed outside the Village Starbucks as he manned the Democratic Club of Claremont table on Sunday mornings.
“He was always calm, gave intelligent rebuttals and was so kind,” fellow democrat Loretta Arenas recalled. “We had wonderful conversations while working the Democratic Club table at the farmers market registering voters and talking politics.”
Mr. Byrum was a regular contributor of letters to several local papers, and had a letter to the editor published in the COURIER the day before his death. Since 2013, he wrote a widely-read political blog, “Politics from the Middle” (politicsfromthemiddle.wordpress.com).
“Gar was a deeply compassionate individual whose empathy for others was only surpassed by his keen intellect,” shared Claremonter Rose Ash. “I shall miss our political repartees and his presence in our community as one of the wise elders.”
Mel Boynton, advocacy chair at UNA-USA of Pomona Valley and a longtime friend, will remember Mr. Byrum most for his conviction.
“Gar was generous and kind and a tireless advocate for justice,” Mr. Boynton said. “Gar will live on in the lives and actions of his many friends.”
Mr. Byrum had been planning his retirement and was in the final stages of moving to England this December to be with his daughter. He is survived by his son, Sean Byrum; his daughter, Siobhan Pycroft and son-in law, Richard Pycroft; and by his sister, Maralou Gray.
A funeral service will be held at 4 p.m. on Saturday, November 4 at Todd Memorial Chapel, 325 N. Indian Hill Blvd., in Claremont. A reception will follow at the Pilgrim Place Napier Common Room, 660 Avery Rd., Claremont.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The American Institute for Progressive Democracy, 2058 N. Mills Ave., #310, Claremont, CA 91711 (Envelopes will be provided), The Democratic Club of Claremont, P.O. Box 1201 Claremont, CA 91711 or Pilgrim Place, attn: Resident Health and Support Program, 625 Mayflower Rd., Claremont, CA 91711.