Prof. Larry Byrd Honored; Scholarship Established

On February 27, the GCC Student Center was alive with praise for a man known to his students as “The Organic King”—that’s king of organic chemistry, a subject that is traditionally tough to grasp, let alone enjoy.

Prof. Larry Byrd, in his 35+ years teaching at Glendale College, motivated thousands of men and women with the humor and wit he infused into his classes. “He takes a course that many students dread—organic chemistry—and makes it come alive, makes you want to understand it and helps you believe you can do that,” says GCC Professor Sevada Chamras.

Although he officially retired in December 2008, Byrd still teaches one class each semester and now shares an office with Chamras, one of his former students. “I know firsthand what a dedicated teacher he is,” says Chamras. “He was my mentor, my inspiration and the reason I’m now teaching the same subject at the same college.”

Chamras is only one of many former students who credit Byrd with their success in careers such as teaching, medicine, dentistry and pharmacy. “I always noticed how Larry kept in touch with his students,” says Chamras. “Through phone calls, e-mails, Facebook and personal visits, so many students contacted him, so we decided we should gather people together to honor him.”

A committee headed by Chamras and made up of former students organized the dinner and tribute, which was attended by more than 75 people. The program included several good-natured roasts and the presentation of a plaque and a photo book signed by dozens of Byrd’s colleagues and pupils. The evening ended with a pleasant surprise for the guest of honor when Foundation Executive Director Lisa Brooks took the podium and announced the establishment of the Prof. Larry Byrd Scholarship.

“The whole thing was totally unexpected…the idea, the dinner, all the testimonials and gifts were overwhelming. Of all the honors I’ve received, this was the most meaningful because it came from the students and was done by them,” says Byrd, who received the GCC Distinguished Faculty Award in 1994 and 2001 and the Outstanding Faculty Award in 2005.

When asked how he manages to instill interest, even enthusiasm, in his students, Byrd has a quick and convincing response. “Organic chemistry is the study of the molecular basis of life. It’s the essence of our world and applies to everyone and everything,” he says.

Besides his use of humor in teaching, Byrd is remembered fondly for his friendliness and ability to put students at ease. One former student, 20-year-old Talin Golnazarian, credits him with helping her take a giant step forward, both personally and educationally.

“I’m a fairly new immigrant to this country, and when I graduated from high school I was unsure of myself but wanted to earn a degree,” says Golnazarian, who will soon transfer to a four-year university to major in biology. “GCC has helped me so much, and Dr. Byrd’s lab was one of the best classes I’ve had. Even at 7 a.m., he was smiling and encouraging. I feel fortunate that I could learn from him and be part of his special event.”

As a member of the dinner committee, Golnazarian worked closely with others who shared her sentiments about the cheerful professor who makes science fun and fascinating. “I was in charge of invitations, finding people through the Internet and other ways, and everyone I contacted was so excited to hear what we were planning for Dr. Byrd,” she says.

For his part, Larry Byrd is a happy man. “I’ve had a wonderful career, I’m still teaching and will probably never retire,” he says. “Besides the day-to-day interaction, the nurturing of students, I hear success stories all the time from those who have gone on to great careers. That’s the real satisfaction.”

Last updated: 3/31/2010 10:23:05 AM