In Memory

Gwendolyn "Gwen" Olson (Byrd) - Class Of 1957

Gwendolyn Gwen Olson (Byrd)

Tenacious breast cancer survivor Gwendolyn K. Byrd died from leukemia at her daughter's home on May 1. She was 65. She was born on September 16, 1939, in Decorah, Iowa, where she spent her childhood. Her family moved to southern California and she graduated from South Pasadena High School. At University of Southern California, she graduated as the only female math major in her class.

On a college trip to Europe, she met Ron Byrd. The two married and raised a daughter, Gwynnae, but later divorced. In the '60s, Mrs. Byrd got a job with Price Waterhouse as an accountant. At the time, only three of the Big Eight accounting firms even interviewed women. She was paid a lower salary than the men and the company had to create a maternity leave policy for her when she became pregnant with her daughter. She later became a certified public accountant.

In the early '80s, Mrs. Byrd survived a plane crash. She was piloting a Cessna and coming in for a landing at the Orange County Airport (now John Wayne), and the plane stalled out. The plane was totaled.

Mrs. Byrd, a resident of Irvine for 27 years, is remembered for being compassionate, selfless, thoughtful, wise, giving and a good listener, her daughter Gywnnae Dawson said.

"She managed to find the positive in everything, even in her battles with breast cancer and leukemia," she said.

Often, her mother would counsel others in their times of grief or troubles, drawing from her experiences to help encourage them. While laying in her hospital bed at Hoag Hospital during her chemotherapy treatments, she learned of others who were undergoing cancer treatment in the hospital and made arrangements to counsel them over the phone, her daughter said.

Free of breast cancer for the last seven years, Mrs. Byrd called herself a "cancer winner." She participated in the Race for the Cure every year, and always wore a pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness.

"She believed in the power of prayer and had a very deep faith in God. That gave her great peace and comfort as she neared the end of her life," her daughter said.

Mrs. Byrd had worked as an associate in ministry at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, and liked to collect angels and Noah's ark items. An active volunteer, Mrs. Byrd was involved in several charities. She served as president of Irvine Philharmonic Society; charter member and president of the Irvine Chapter of National Charity League; and former head of the Irvine Meals on Wheels program. She was also active in the Orange County Chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a season ticket holder to the Hollywood Bowl and South Coast Repertory Theater.

She is survived by her father, Glenn Olson, her sister, Cheryl Olson, her daughter and son-in-law, Gwynnae and Chris Dawson; and twin grandchildren Lucas and Cedeira.

Orange County Register, May 19, 2005