Glen Robert Byrns passed away on Sunday, January 22, 2023 after receiving a diagnosis of stage 4 esophageal carcinoma the previous Friday. He was with family and his good friend, Howard Shempp, at the time of his death.
Born in August 1952 to Clyde and Jane Byrns, he spent his first 18 years in Gardena, graduating from Gardena High in 1970, enjoying a happy boyhood cruising the neighborhoods and open fields of the town on bicycles with his friends. That love of cycling would continue throughout his life. After high school, Glen majored in Biological Sciences, graduating in 1974 from UC Riverside. It was at UCR that he met his future wife, Lesley.
After graduation, Glen started working in Paul Terasaki’s Tissue Typing Laboratory at UCLA in 1975. He was a member of the UCLA tissue typing transplant team, transporting donated organs from LAX to his lab to test for viable recipients. Because he was so committed to this work, the family was honored to donate his corneas to two very lucky recipients who would now be able to see through Glen’s remarkably optimistic eyes.
Lesley and Glen got together when she stopped by his lab one day during a lunch break in her job interview schedule. With a firm foundation as good friends, they began to see each other and eventually they settled into a solid relationship, moving together into a wonderful 1940s apartment in Westwood. In May 1981, they were married in the garden of Yamashiro’s Restaurant in the Hollywood Hills. They headed out on a three-week road trip with bicycles, hiking gear and a two-person decked canoe to visit many of the great western parks including Yellowstone, Banff, Lake Louise and Zion National Park. This was one of their many excursions through the western US and Canada, and, eventually, to Europe.
Wanting to start a family, Glen and Lesley visited Davis as they knew they did not wish to stay in LA. Professor Domenico Bernocco, on staff at Terasaki’s UCLA lab, was about to transfer to the Serology Lab at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and he hired Glen as one of his staff researchers in 1982. Lesley found employment as the manager of the Philosophy Department. In 1983, their first daughter, Katy, was born. Their second daughter, Kelly, followed in 1989.
Glen enjoyed working as a molecular geneticist in Veterinary Genetics through the complex technological changes from tissue typing using blood samples to working directly with DNA. He loved the science and his interest continued long past retirement. He was fully engaged talking to one of his doctors in the ER about these advances.
Glen was very involved with his daughters’ schoolwork and extracurricular activities. He coached several soccer teams for both daughters and watched many dance concerts. He was an avid cyclist completing many century and double century rides both as a single rider and on the tandem with his cycling partner, Mark Ruhe. Glen also cycled with Lesley on their tandem and for their tenth anniversary in 1991, they biked from Portland to Eugene, OR, taking the coast route. For 35 years the family spent the third week of August in “Brookie,” ‘their’ cabin at Packer Lake near the Sierra Buttes. His love for the beauty of the Sierra extended far beyond that week and he was an avid backpacker in all seasons, occasionally camping in snow.
Glen retired from the University after 35 years at the age of 57 and his hobbies included building and flying model airplanes and working on his “Little British Cars”. He learned how to rebuild cars in high school from his neighbor who owned a ‘59 Austin Healey Bug-Eye Sprite. Glen was able to purchase this car for restoration from his old friend. He restored several more cars over the years including Lesley’s car, a ‘58 Morris Traveler “Winifred”; a ‘59 Morris pick-up; and a classic ‘60 MINI. He was often seen driving these cars around town, especially his favorite, “Bugsy.”
While Glen enjoyed road trips and flying model airplanes, he strongly disliked flying in jet airplanes. Lesley and her family had visited her grandparents in England when she was 8 and she always wanted to go back. Glen had kayaked through the Grand Canyon on a private trip years before and had always wanted her to see the beauty of the Canyon but he knew she was not thrilled about water trips. So he made a deal with her. “If you go down the Grand Canyon on a raft with an established tour company, I will go wherever you want to go for the rest of our lives.” She agreed and they spent much of the next 12 years traveling. They spent their 30th anniversary in the Canyon, followed by several trips to the UK planned by Lesley and six Rick Steves tours. The highlight of their last trip to Ireland was High Tea at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, a wonderful finishing touch to over a decade of traveling.
Glen and Lesley had promised their then-8-year old grandson, Owen, a trip to London when he was 9. Sadly COVID intervened and delayed that trip which was finally rescheduled for February and then April 2023. Lesley promised Glen that she would take Owen and his mom, Katy, on that trip.
In addition to Glen’s other hobbies, he was a good cook and took up baking with a vengeance in the last ten years. While on a trip to Salzburg, he learned how to make a delicious apple strudel and then, through trial and error, perfected the art of baking a layered, crunchy and tasty croissant. It was the conjunction of scientific experimentation with the joy of eating that kept Glen working to achieve the perfect croissant. He served these to the many volunteers who enjoyed Lesley’s and friend Maril Stratton’s, postcard parties. Dozens of writers arrived to write postcards to like-minded voters around the country urging them to vote. Since 2017 this group has written over 100,000 postcards and Glen has baked hundreds of croissants.
Glen’s mantra was “Always order the orange juice” which refers to his favorite drink (fresh-squeezed, of course) and the high price for a small glass in a restaurant. To honor Glen’s “wonderful life” (his words) which was filled with humor, stories, hobbies, travel, scientific inquiry and a strong desire to help his friends and neighbors in any way he could, daughters Katy and Kelly organized a postcard party for Glen, shortly after his death. Pink Dozen Donuts in Davis donated five dozen croissants as Glen was a frequent customer throughout the pandemic with his and Lesley’s “Donut Friday” breakfast. Grandson Owen squeezed dozens of oranges from the trees in the yard so everyone could toast his grandpa while granddaughter Eleanor chatted with the guests. The front patio was filled with friends, neighbors and postcarders telling stories about the little kindnesses they had received from Glen and writing postcards to the family. Everyone had a wonderful time and it was exactly the kind of happy yet low-key occasion that he would have liked to attend. He never considered himself to be a social person but the outpouring of love and support and thanks for small kindnesses from Glen belies that belief.
Glen’s ashes will be spread in some of his favorite places including hiking trails at Packer Lake and his own front yard amidst a sea of daffodils he was so proud of creating. Glen will be missed but he will not be forgotten and his memory will live on through his friends and family members: Lesley, his wife; daughters Katy and Kelly; sons-in-law Dale Kunce and Matt Enriquez; grandchildren Owen and Eleanor Kunce; sister-in-law Lisa Byrns; sister-and brother-in-law Christine and Lee DeGalan and niece Mary Kate DeGalan and her wife Theresa.
If you wish to make a donation please consider Shriners Hospital, Portland (Lovetotherescue.org) in honor of granddaughter Eleanor; transplantliving.org in honor of Glen’s work on the transplant team or Natural Resources Defense Council in honor of his love of backpacking and the wilderness of our country.