Judy Lawrence Byrd died in her sleep on the morning of March 10, 2023, at the age of 78 and following three weeks of fighting pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and congestive heart failure. She was at peace and ready to go. In fact, she always said, “My mama died at 78 and if the good Lord gives me that much time, that is all I ask.” Judy was diagnosed with IPF and heart disease in February 2017, days after the birth of her first grandchild. The last six years have been a gift. Judy beat breast cancer in 1994, so the past 28 years have been a gift. Judy survived a debilitating car accident in 1972, so the last 51 years have been a gift. She was the most generous person and truly gave her whole life to the people she loved. Her motto was “Cast thy gifts upon the water,” and she did—always showing up with a present for the grandkids, “walking-around money” for her adult children, a Happy Meal toy for a crying kid in an elevator, and on and on. She loved to give the gift of travel; vacationing with Jude, she spared no expense for a good time! If she couldn’t get the reservation she wanted, she would call back claiming to be Dame Judi Dench and that would open any door. Even before she had much money, her charm, humor, and playful risk-taking brought delight to everyone around her. She loved to talk to strangers, and wasn’t afraid to walk right up to a celebrity and ask to hold their baby (which she did when she saw Jennifer Connelly at a restaurant in Los Angeles–and yes, she got to hold the baby!) She loved celebrities and movies, but her favorite entertainment was anything that’s real: documentaries, true crime, reality TV, YouTube vloggers. She would stay up late watching shows on her laptop throughout the night—and then sleep all day. She had another life in her sleep, where she would lucidly dream about her loved ones. In her later years, she could sleep for days, and enjoyed recounting her dreams to her family. She missed her mama every day, and outlived most of her siblings and best friends. She got to be with them in her sleep, and we hope that they were all there with her when she passed. As president of the Naval Officer’s Wives’ Club, she hosted luncheons with Tipper Gore. She was active in supporting her children’s school and after-school pursuits—but she had her own interests too. She had a menagerie of pets over the years: birds, turtles, things in tanks and cages, poodles, and miniature schnauzers. She insisted on buying a computer in the 1980s and took a class on DOS at the local college. She also took classes in stained glass and calligraphy—she was a wonderful artist, and won an art competition as a teen. In her later years, she enjoyed painting figurines and chess sets for her kids. She was often encouraged to sell her work, but she only enjoyed doing it for people she loved.
Friends & Family
Judy lived for her family, and cultivated a strong and eternal closeness with her children. Her husband proposed to her on their third date, and they were happily married for 47 years. She had careers as a realtor and legal secretary before devoting herself full-time to supporting her husband’s successful military career and raising two kids, ever their best friend and loyal protector. In high school, Judy was a basketball star, winning Most Athletic (as well as Wittiest) in her senior year. Ironically, her family never knew her athleticism because she had limited mobility after her car accident in 1972. (Following that injury, her legs were reattached in an experimental surgery. She was in a cohort with nine Vietnam vets and after a year she was the only one whose “living prosthesis” was still successful—and she kept them all her life. A medical marvel.) Even though her family never got to see her hog the ball on the court, her wit was a hallmark of her larger-than-life personality. She was silly, smart, irreverent, and comforting with her humor. And generous with it, right up to the end, making silly faces when she could barely get a breath. Judy is survived by so many loving friends and family, and friends of friends, and strangers, and an endless network of people whose world she made better. In particular, she is survived by her loving husband Rear Admiral John T. Byrd and puppy dog Sarah, son Jefferson and his wife Nichole, daughter Jenny and her husband David, and her beloved grandchildren Rosemary and Penelope (whose middle name is Judy Belle).