Byron Cocke was my best friend in college. We roomed together in the house during our second year, which was 1995-1996. Byron listened to George Clinton. Down the hall in Frank’s room, it was all Phish. There was an old mix tape in the stereo closet that featured a lot of Steely Dan. We wondered how long it had been there.
That was the year when UVA beat Florida State in football. I heard the roars from the stadium through my open window on Grady Street while studying for an Introductory Accounting test. Byron had the same test, but he had made the right decision and gone to the game. That particular Cocke family tailgate must have been epic.
Byron loved his fraternity brothers. His face lit up when he talked about Irwin, Stuart, the Reverend and all of you characters. He only built up those around him. I can’t recall a memory of Byron in which he’s not smiling. We talked about the future, and Byron made predictions that sounded audacious; they would all come true.
I texted with Byron just days before we received the news. That wasn’t typical for us anymore, but I remember thinking how great it felt to hear from him again and how I wanted to talk to him more often.
On August 28, 2017, my fiancé Lisa and I were sitting on a plane that was about to take off when a call came in from a college friend. Byron had taken off in a charter aircraft with his wife Catherine that morning. The plane went down, and they didn’t make it.
There wasn’t a dry eye in Savannah’s St. John’s Church when Byron’s younger brother John took the pulpit to eulogize his older brother. The sanctuary was full. An overflow space across the street with a video link was standing room only. John spoke with eloquence, fortitude, and the kind of love that all of us who know the Cocke family have long admired.
Byron and Catherine are survived by five beautiful children who range in age from less than one year to twelve. We were comforted to learn that John and his wife will serve as the children’s guardians, a role that Chas says John was made for.
We had the opportunity to meet some of Byron and Catherine’s friends from Savannah after the service. He and Catherine actively supported emerging artists and the local historical society. Our old friend, Raghav “Rags” Sapra told me that he and Byron were restoring a historic Savannah building into a boutique hotel that will be called the Drayton, opening in Summer 2018. Rags said that Byron took him under his wing and taught him a lot about real estate, and Rags was grateful. He said that we will find tributes to Byron and Catherine in the walls of the Drayton.
There is a UVA reunion coming up in the Spring of 2018 that would have been Byron’s 20th. I want to encourage all of you who knew him to make the trip back to Charlottesville with me. Byron would love the fact that he is bringing so many of us back together. We’ll celebrate his life in a place that Byron loved, where we all knew him best, and where the Cocke family legacy is very much alive.