Founding Special Olympics Montana Executive Director Don Byers Passed Away

Founding Special Olympics Montana Executive Director Don Byers Passed Away

Dear Friends of Special Olympics Montana,

For your information, Don Byers, the founding executive director of Montana Special Olympics (now Special Olympics Montana) for 22 years passed away April 29 at the age of 80.

When people with intellectual disabilities were still institutionalized, Don’s commitment to create opportunities for athletes to lead joyful lives through sports was ahead of his time.  Our movement’s founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, supported Don’s efforts during those formative years to establish Special Olympics in Montana.  Eunice had fond memories of attending State Summer Games in Montana in the early 1970’s when white doves were released to signify the unleashing of human potential in every athlete with intellectual disabilities.

During Special Olympics Montana’s 25th Anniversary at the 1995 State Basketball Tournament Opening Ceremonies in Butte, a full Civic Center celebrated Don’s tenure as executive director.  Then, in 2010, during Special Olympics Montana’s 40th Anniversary celebration, Don was recognized as one of 40 key first followers and game changers in our movement.

A vignette written about Don in the 40th Anniversary tribute book said,

“When the Special Olympics movement was conceived in 1968, one of Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s first followers in the United States, and specifically Montana, was Don Byers.  Mrs. Shriver was impressed with Don’s insight, skills and commitment to serve those who were often considered the lost, forgotten and unworthy.

 Growing up in Boulder, Montana, Don enjoyed playing sports with residents from the Montana Development Center.  As early as 1968, Don was experimenting with the possibilities that others saw as impossible when he took Montana Development Center residents to a track meet in Billings.

 Following friend and colleague, Bob Williamson, who ignited the flame in Billings, Don became volunteer director of Special Olympics Montana in 1970 and the first paid executive director in 1982, leading the movement for a total of 22 years.  When asked why he stayed involved for so many years, Don said, “Special Olympics helped change so many lives in such positive ways.  How could you not want to be involved?”

 While Don wants the world to know how grateful he is for the opportunity to serve this movement and to thank everyone who shared their time, talent and treasure, it is Special Olympics Montana that is forever grateful for his vision and leadership to launch this organization.  Don stood where no others stood before.  He took the first step on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities, opening doors and inviting a new way of thinking about humanity.”

As a result of Don’s vision and determination, in partnership with the Special Olympics International movement, we are now in 170 nations and serving approximately 5 million children and adult athletes with intellectual disabilities.  Indeed, Don made a world of difference right here in Montana.

If you would like to read Don’s obituary, visit the Great Falls Tribune website at:

A Rosary followed by a Vigil service will be held Friday, May 5, at 7:00 pm at the Resurrection University Catholic Parish in Bozeman.  A Funeral Mass will be held Saturday, May 6 at 12:00 pm at St. Catherine Catholic Church in Boulder.  Don’s family suggests memorial gifts in his name to Special Olympics Montana.  Condolences and memories may be shared with Don’s family at

Please keep Don’s family in your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.  Bob

Bob Norbie
President/Chief Executive Fan
Special Olympics Montana    

Don Byers 1972 IN

Don Byers 1972 IN

Byers on left 1981 IN W Vermont

Byers on left 1981 IN W Vermont


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