Phi Kappa Sigma

John E. Byrnes jr. ’64

[…] Gentlemen,

This letter is being written to inform you of the death of my brother, John E. Byrnes Jr., on February 11, 2008. John Jr. graduated from M.I.T. in 1964. His area of study was Theoretical Mathematical Physics. He was a member of Alpha Mu Chapter of Phi Kappa Sigma Fraternity. My brother came to M.I.T. from Neville High School, Monroe, Louisiana; where he was a Civil Air Patrol Cadet and a National Merit Scholar.

In the fall of 1964 my brother was hospitalized in South Florida with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He was never able to effectively continue his work in mathematics. The 1998 book, “A Beautiful Mind” by Sylvia Nasar was a personal blessing because it, for the first time in over thirty years, provided a meaningful analogy to my brother’s long struggle, illustrating his courage, kindness, new hopes, and continuing disappointments. In the early years of his illness John was able to live on his own, near the constant love and care of our parents; and for a time to hold jobs such as surveyor assistant. He went to Italy to join a monastery; but a loving and well meaning attempt to help him off meds did not go well. Our father travelled to Italy and helped my brother to safely return home. His last twenty years were variously spent with our parents or in half-way houses and nursing homes.

There was a small Cuban restaurant in North Miami near his assisted-living residence. We would walk there to have cafecitos and Cafe con leche, usually enjoyed by him with Camel cigarettes. A phrase from the Prologue of “A Beautiful Mind” was like talking with my brother: “……,the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did.”

John’s ashes are with me at my home in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and someday will be joined with his parents who predeceased him. In early spring 2010, seeing a baby Red Oak barely able to hold the weight of a finch, these words came: “While making morning coffee / I see from the window / A finch swaying on the branch / Of a young Red Oak / The sun warming delicate unborn leaves Of its third spring / I think of Johnny. mtb 3-16-2010”

Michael T. Byrnes
PO Box 4092
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-4092
(505) 850-6388