The celebration of Vail Pioneer Byron Brown’s life really was a celebration
September 29, 2017
VAIL — No one should be surprised that there was no parking left for the huge crowd that celebrated Byron Brown's life. The crowd was as full as the heart of the man they celebrated.
The service was such a celebration that as the family filed out of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, the crowd gave them a standing ovation. If there was a dry eye in the house, then they were lying eyes.
Not only was Byron Brown alive more than eight decades, he lived.
Pat Hamilton played and sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It contains Byron's autobiographical lyric, "Dreams really do come true."
Earlier this week, Rev. Brooks Keith and pastor Eric Williams were working with Vi Brown, Byron's wife, to plan Friday's celebration and asked what scripture the family wanted.
"I want that scripture about the mountains!" Vi said excitedly, which is the way Vi says most things.
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That would be Psalm 121, A Song of Ascents: "I lift mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh my strength …"
Byron Brown was upwardly mobile his entire life. Now he's in heaven with his son Todd, Keith said.
"The moment that Byron left us, he looked Todd in the face in one of the most beautiful reunions you could imagine." Keith said. "Todd has been unsupervised for more than 20 years. Guess who gets the lectures now?"
A life well lived
Byron Brown was born in Missouri, moved to Iowa, played quarterback on his high school football team, took up competitive diving, attended Colorado A&M, joined the Air Force, worked at Hughes Aircraft in Santa Monica, California, migrated back to Denver and joined the National Ski Patrol at Arapahoe Basin. He joined the Schussboomers Ski Club in Georgetown, where he met Vi. They were engaged in the Snake River Saloon near Keystone and married in Willmar, Minnesota, Vi's hometown.
"Byron was my favorite husband. He was my only husband, and he was my favorite," Vi said. "I'm so eternally grateful that Byron got to keep his memories. I'm thankful for all the sunrises, sunsets, so many jobs, the good snow and all the ski racers who lived with us."
As she spoke from the amphitheater stage, Vi was surrounded by her grandchildren, John Crawford, Byron Crawford and Maddie Brown.
"Byron and I have 56 years together and had such a great adventure coming to Vail so early," Vi said.
Adventures such as the time Byron hauled his golf clubs and their kids — Todd, Mike and Cindy — to the top of Mount of the Holy Cross and hit the longest drive in Eagle County history.
Mike said you could argue with Byron about that, but no one has ever found that golf ball, so it may still be traveling.
"People buy a lottery ticket. We never had to do that. We had the best parents in the world," Mike said.
Cindy Brown Crawford and John Crawford gave Byron and Vi their first grandchild, John. That's special, but Cindy beats everyone.
"I am the only person in the world to be the daughter of Byron Brown. My dad will always be my champion, my protector," Cindy said.
Cindy recalled a Christmas video in which young Todd was heard saying, "Byron Brown is the best father in America. Check that … the best father in the world."
"There was so much to do, it really was being a pioneer," Byron said in a video interview played for the crowd.
There was no TV in Vail in those days, and they wanted to watch a football game. So Pete Seibert hauled a TV to the top of Vail Mountain, Byron rigged up an antenna so they could get a signal from Castle Peak.
Then there was the uppity woman riding a lift with Byron who was aghast that Vail allowed snowboarders.
"They're all doing the same thing. Having fun in the snow," Byron told her.
And Byron was a bit of a visionary. In the early 1960s, Byron said to friend and fellow Vail Pioneer Ben Krueger, "Ben, why don't you buy a lot? They're $5,000 and they may go up to $6,500."
A few weeks ago, grandson Byron was with his grandfather, peppering him with questions, when he asked his grandfather a question about Vi.
"If you ever find a person like that, you hold onto her because two people can do a whole hell of a lot more than one," his grandfather told him.
John said that over the years, his grandfather mellowed from, "You're doing it wrong," to "You're doing just fine."
The grandchildren took their grandfather skiing on his 80th birthday, and he was still good at it.
"We do not need to cry for the things he did not accomplish," Byron said. "He served in the military, flew over the North Pole and saw the Northern Lights from above, mined uranium mine, taught skiing. … His idea of retirement was to pick up furniture in that old white truck."
Rev. Keith reminded the crowd that early in Genesis, the Bible tells us that giants walked the earth.
"We just lost one," Keith told the crowd. "Look at the legacy all around you. This is a legacy of generosity and community.
"Byron did not come to town or move to town. Byron built the town with Vi, with Ernie and Joe, with all of you who are here. Who's going to be the next Byron and Vi Brown in the community? Who'll say "I'm going to do that, fix that' … who's next?"
On June 2, 1991, Byron and Vi Brown were in the Vail hospital awaiting their first grandchild, John, the same day this reporter's daughter, Morgan Wyrick, was born. I flounced around the hospital in a blind panic, and finally turned to a smiling Byron and asked, "What do I do now?" Byron smirked and replied, "It's a little late to be asking that! You already did it!" Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.