Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Another legend lost

One of the true legends of the valley departed for the little cabin in the sky this weekend. The mayor of Irwin, John Biro, went to sleep and didn’t wake up in this world last Sunday.

Biro was seen by some as an outlaw. Maybe. He was definitely a Crested Butte legend.

Biro was one of those who represented the spirit of a wild Crested Butte with fewer rules and fewer people. Originally from Ohio, he was arrested at Kent State at 19 years old and then left for Arizona before ending up in Irwin in 1977, where just three other people were braving year-round residency in the old wilderness ghost town that was once a mining hub. He never left. He learned to fix snowmobiles and how to survive pretty much alone in a wilderness outpost before it started to get crowded. More than once he shut down the bar in the old Irwin Lodge before hopping on his sled and finding his way home beneath the Milky Way. He lamented the loving of Colorado to death. He didn’t like the gates sprouting up near his house. He smoked. He drank. He drove his snowmobile naked at times. He was a rock star on construction sites at the controls of the crane that deftly moved thousand-pound beams into place. His voice was John Prine gravel, his wit George Carlin sharp. He was smart, acerbic, sweet-souled, crusty and friendly all at once. He was a dad with kids separated by decades in age.

Biro once said that getting ready for an Irwin winter was like preparing for a journey to Mars. He literally saved a cabin full of people from carbon monoxide poisoning. He has taught scores of locals how to not only survive, but embrace a winter in Irwin. He taught himself how keep the snowmobiles running and shared his knowledge with anyone who asked. He taught newbies how to be alone and stay sane. He was not only the mayor of Irwin, he was the guru of Irwin.

Biro lived what he preached. He was rough around the edges with an incredibly large heart. He represented the edge of the place most of us can relate to but the place we do not necessarily want to experience day after day. He did. He wasn’t politically correct. In his way, he was an environmentalist and hated promotion of the place that brought more people and thus more impacts to paradise. He was not afraid to speak his truth.

Biro is one who will be missed whether you personally knew him or not and his surprise death, even at 67 years old, was a major shock to the community. I feel for the younger kids but have no doubt he taught them well.

We all will eventually end up leaving this world and, honestly, to do so in one’s sleep can’t be all bad. To do so after living a full life of integrity, adventure and incredible spirit is even better. Biro did that.

RIP Mr. Mayor.

—Mark Reaman

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