Saying Goodbye to Mike Byers

I met Mike Byers in 2009, and I only knew him for about one week each year. He passed away suddenly this weekend, and I wish I had known him better. I wish all of you could have known him better. 

Mike was part of a crew that called themselves “The Kokomo Irregulars.” Back in the early aughts his group descended upon GenCon Indy each year to help Tracy Hickman with events like Killer Breakfast and X-Treme Dungeon Mastery panels, and in 2009 Mike was part of the core group of Kokomo Irregulars who put together Tracy’s first-ever actual booth at GenCon. 

I got to be there for that. I didn’t know who these volunteers were, but they were getting the job DONE. Well and truly done. Anyway, that was the year I met Mike, and it’s also when my favorite Mike Byers story takes place.

Tracy was headed to a panel, and was schlepping a forty-pound backpack full of books and electronics away from our booth. I tapped Mike on his enormous shoulder and said “Tracy needs help. Carry his backpack for him, would you?”

Mike said “I’ve tried. Tracy won’t let me.”

“Ah. That’s just Tracy being Tracy,” I said. “When he tells you ‘no,’ you stop him and point back at this booth and say ‘Howard told me you have to let me do this.’”

Mike smiled, and hustled after Tracy. They were far enough away that I couldn’t hear the conversation, but I saw Tracy shake his head, and then Mike pointed back at me. When Tracy turned to look my way I scowled at him, pointed at Mike, then put my hands on my hips. Tracy shrugged, resignedly relinquished his burden, and Mike grinned like a happy fool the whole time.

Ninety minutes later Tracy returned to the booth and thanked me. “I had no idea how much I needed that,” he said, and yes, I felt kind of smug, but this isn’t a story about me. It’s a story about Mike, and it’s just the beginning. 

See, he became part of our GenCon crew for the next decade, and he was always throwing other people’s burdens on those big shoulders of his. More than once he told me that I needed to learn what Tracy had learned, that I needed to just step aside and let Mike carry it all, carry on, carry over, and care for me. For all of us. 

Mike wasn’t paid for this. We covered badges and hotel rooms for our crew, but Mike and the others insisted that they were volunteers, and were helping out because they liked helping. And they liked us. 

This isn’t the behavior of someone who likes you. This is love. 

I only knew Mike for one week a year, and only for about ten of those years. I am poorer for not having spent more time with him, and I’m sorry to say that you’re all poorer for not having met him. Or maybe you did get to meet him at GenCon Indy, sometime between 2009 and 2019, when he was part of my favorite found family ever, my GenCon family. 

L-to-R: Mike Byers, Jim Zub, Sandra Tayler, Howard Tayler, and Robin Byers

We’ll miss you Mike. If Heaven is a place where there are no more burdens to be borne, well… maybe God will let you run day-trips to Hell, because I can’t imagine you being truly happy without having someone else to help.