Byron reached out to me in 2016 to offer his storytelling services with tales of Chacala and the artist community that resides there. He knew he’d found a hidden gem along our coastline and he wanted to support the local people who make it such a special place (www.vallartatribune.com/chacala-the-hidden-treasure-of-nayarit/). Never once did he offer his impressive resume, instead appealing to my desire to share stories of local spots and people off the well-worn tourist path.
Apparently, he enjoyed writing for the Tribune so much he wrote again the next year and the next and in 2018 Byron penned Byron Recommends, a restaurant review column. This past season he took a break writing for the Tribune but his husband of more than 30 years, Algis Kemezys took up the reins with a series on street art and often graced our cover with his magical photos.
Before they left to return to their lake home in Quebec this past spring, I ran into them in La Comer. In front of the imported cheeses, while searching for olive oil, we made promises to meet for dinner soon, and I’m sorry I didn’t make it happen because Byron unexpectedly passed away on July 12, 2019, after a short battle with lung cancer.
Larger than life, he was a man you would love on sight with his friendly eyes and well-spoken wisdom, and I suspect I’m not the only one. Through his 73 years, he impressed and dazzled the likes of Anthony Bourdain, drinking him under the table while touring him through Greece in No Reservations, and as Mick Jagger’s personal chef (oh, how I wish I’d made time for that dinner).
He was also a food critic at the Montreal Gazette and Toronto’s Now magazine and a published novelist. The stories of Byron being shared around the globe via social media only go to show that you never know who you might meet in Vallarta.
This spring Byron shared with me his newly completed novel that is set in the neighborhood of Palo Seco and the panteon (cemetery) in 5 de Diciembre. He gave me free rein to publish it when and where I saw fit. For now, I’ll hold on to it, and perhaps in the fall Algis and I can share his last ode to Vallarta in theses pages.
Lord Byron, as he is affectionately called was adventurous and charming and wickedly funny, and I hope you had a chance to enjoy his gifts in the pages of the Vallarta Tribune. For a look at his work in the newspaper, please visit www.vallartatribune.com/author/byron-ayanoglu.
My sincerest condolences to Algis and all those who loved Byron. Vaya con Dios, amigo.
A friend, Edward Yersh, launched a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money to help Kemezys with death costs and to transition to a new life. www.gofundme.com/f/byron-ayanoglu-memorial-fund