News Archive

Remembering Byron Goundrey, Governor of Boys State

Governor Byron Goundrey

The election for ALJBS Governor is tomorrow, so we decided to look back at one of the most remarkable Governors we've ever had in our program, Byron Goundrey [Harrison City #8] of North Brunswick (Middlesex County), Post #25. Senior City Counselor Joe Demyon was not in charge of Byron's city but was deeply moved by Byron's ability and grace, and spoke glowingly about Byron to other staff before most of us knew of him. Joe was gracious enough to share a few thoughts about Byron.

ALJBS: How did you find out about Byron?

Joe: Byron's presence on campus was very unique because of his situation. I don't remember the precise medical issues but he was a paraplegic and had to be housed in a special room. Usually, they put handicapped delegates in my building, Switlik, which had accommodations for that, and oftentimes when this happened, the dad was usually along. But in Byron's case, his dad was working so his mom was the caregiver.

So you had a little bit of a problem because now there's a woman in with the guys. They had to find some special accommodation for her so that she could be in with the guys to take care of the unique needs he had. I got involved with Byron because I met his mom. She would always be in the background outside, off to the side, away from Boys State. It was unique to see a female on the Boys State campus, where you've got all these guys. But she and I talked a little bit, and through her I got to know Byron.

With Byron, I just sat in awe of this young man who sat there in a wheelchair. I watched Byron and got to know him as one of the counselors. I consider every statesman at Boys State my statesman and I think most other counselors do the same. Byron didn't happen to live in my city but he was very interesting and unique.

He had a grasp of the issues facing the state and the nation that I felt was remarkable for a young man his age. He came in prepared.

ALJBS: Most delegates they have one or two issues they focus on. Byron had multiple. Have you ever seen a delegate who had something like that?

Joe: That much understanding, breadth and depth? No. You name a topic and he could go on for hours about it. It didn't matter what that topic was. You tie it into anything that was facing the state or nation at that time and he could tell you everything about it.

Part of his medical situation impacted his vocal cords so he could not speak very loudly. He was very soft-spoken; they had to make sure there was a microphone close to him—the only statesman they did that for. But when he spoke, it was like that old EF Hutton advertisement, "When EF Hutton speaks, everybody listens", right? When Byron Goundrey spoke, as soft-spoken as he was, everybody listened.

You watched this kid in his wheelchair roll up and move about (he could move with his hands because his wheelchair was motorized), he'd approach the table, have his binder in front of him, and establish his particular platform and his potential solutions to the problems facing New Jersey. And they were real issues in New Jersey and the federal government which he identified. That doesn't happen often. He prepped before he came here and had a grasp of the issues that an adult involved in politics would have. He was sixteen or seventeen. He was phenomenal.

Like I said, when he spoke, everybody listened, and you could hear a pin drop in the Cavalla Room. Nobody moved, they didn't shift in their chairs, they didn't cough, they just wanted to hear what he had to say because he had something to say. I think every one of the statesmen around him knew him, understood the situation, and would go out of their way so they could help him achieve whatever level of success he was striving to meet.

ALJBS: Did they get signatures for him for governor?

Joe: They did. For governor, you can sign over signatures, and they wanted to make sure he got there. Those guys in his city already knew what he was capable of and made sure he was in the running .

ALJBS: From time to time at Boys State, we have novelty candidates or "pity candidates." They might be smart but their success comes from more than just that. Byron was not a pity candidate.

Joe: No, absolutely not. Byron would simply not allow anyone to feel sorry for him. He didn't need or want you to. He demonstrated to every one of the delegates that year that he was a worthy candidate. I don't know the final totals, but I assume it was an overwhelming landslide. His opponent in that election didn't have a snowball's chance. Byron was the most qualified young man to be Boys State governor I have ever seen.

His opponent was [Boys Nation Senator] Gene Cheval, who turned around from that election and automatically won Boys Nation Senator—but once Byron opened his mouth, Gene didn't have a chance. During questions, they could throw anything at him, any curveball, and he'd just flip the pages and find the answer. He had better solutions, as a high school student, than some current politicians at the the state level in either party, and I'm not saying this to be disparaging to any current senator or governor.

ALJBS: You mention Byron in what you say to the delegate the first day. What do you tell them?

Joe: If you want it, the only person who's stopping you from achieving that goal is you. I use Byron as an example of that. He's a kid who believed in himself, wanted to achieve as much as possible, and wouldn't take no for an answer. And I get choked up when I talk about it because I have to talk about Byron in the past tense. Shortly after Boys State, in his freshman year at Rutgers, he passed away and we lost him. It's bad enough for his parents but I think Byron strongly affected other people the same way. Everybody who knew him had such a positive image of him because of the way he was: his drive, his willingness to take any obstacle he'd been given throughout his life and kick it to the side of the road. He still affects me when I talk about him.

originally posted June 21, 2012 0900