Christopher Byron remembered for exposing swindlers and con artists

Christopher Byron and his ex-wife, Maria, on their boat, The Fancy Diver.

Christopher Byron and his ex-wife, Maria, on their boat, The Fancy Diver.

The world lost one of the “most tenacious people on earth” when Christopher Byron, a successful business journalist, best-selling author and longtime Westonite, died on Saturday Jan. 7, at age 72.

“I had forgotten how much he had accomplished until we started putting together all of the stuff for his obituary,” said his daughter Jana Byron. “I just hadn’t realized how big of a deal he was and how much he had accomplished in his life.”

A business journalist for 40 years, Byron had a reputation for his tenacity and eagerness to expose corruption and systemic wrongdoings on Wall Street and throughout the business world.

The author of six books, Byron grew up in Westport and dropped out of Stamford High School in 1962 to join the Navy. After serving two years, he “talked his way” into Yale University, where he graduated with honors in 1968, despite not having a high school diploma.

“Knowing him, it wasn’t at all surprising that he could talk his way into a school like Yale,” said Jana. “He was very charismatic, very persuasive, very articulate, and very funny. Those qualities helped him become the journalist that he was.”

Byron met his ex-wife, Maria Los, when he was a student at Yale. They married in 1968 and were together until their divorce last year. In addition to Jana, Byron is survived by his daughter Katy, his son Nicholas and his brother Kevin.

Byron started working at The Hour newspaper in Norwalk soon after he finished at Yale. He attended Columbia Law School and graduated in 1972.

TV Cable Week

He was working at Time Magazine in 1983, when the company launched TV Cable Week, a magazine that Time hoped would compete with TV Guide. TV Cable Week was in business for only five months, and according to Jana, failed “miserably and spectacularly.”

Byron used that experience in 1986 to write The Fanciest Dive: What Happened When the Giant Media Empire of Time/Life Leaped Without Looking into the Age of High-Tech. As the title suggests, the book offered a scathing critique of the endeavor and included in-depth interviews with many of the key figures involved.

Jana said she doesn’t remember a period of time when Byron wasn’t working on a new book or a new investigative column. She said Byron’s work and personal life were heavily intertwined.

“He was a very creative person, but oftentimes with creativity comes a little madness,” she said. “Living with him could be stressful because he was so involved with his work. But when he was done, the book or the article that he produced was always really important.”

Byron’s most successful book was his 2002 unauthorized biography of Martha Stewart, called Martha Inc.: The Incredible Story of Martha Stewart. It was a New York Times bestseller and was made into a TV movie starring Cybill Shepherd as Martha Stewart.

The book chronicles Stewart’s journey into fame, from her working class background to her billion-dollar empire. It details Stewart’s drive, energy and determination, but also exposes the ruthlessness and willingness to exploit the talents, and sometimes the loyalty, of many people.

Byron’s book on the renowned Domestic Goddess benefited from great timing. About a year after the book was released, Stewart was indicted on fraud charges. “It came out and she got indicted soon after — it couldn’t have been timed better if he’d paid someone,” said Jana.

Byron was incredibly proud of Martha Inc., Jana said. It was his only bestseller and made-for-TV movie.

“It was a really big deal to him that the book was a bestseller,” Jana said. “When he found out it was going to be a movie, he was thrilled that his work was being recognized.”

Wall Street Wakeup

Throughout his career, Byron contributed to Forbes, New York magazine, Playboy magazine, Esquire magazine, Bloomberg News, and the New York Post, among other publications. He also hosted a daily syndicated radio show called Wall Street Wakeup.

He wrote a popular weekly financial column for the New York Observer from 1995 to 2001 called Back of the Envelope, where he worked to expose swindlers and con artists from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.

Byron was described in Howard Kurtz’s 2001 best-selling book, The Fortune Tellers, as someone who “openly disdains the stock market, the financial establishment, and much of the business press, and castigates them in his weekly column.”

According to Jana, one of Byron’s biggest hobbies was working out whenever he could, including running long-distance and weightlifting.

“He lived at the gym and he was proud of his body,” said Jana. “He had the physique of a 25-year-old man up until he died.”

Byron lived in the Stony Brook area of Weston. Jana said he loved maintaining his pristine home and yard and was often referred to as “Mr. Lawn” by his neighbors because of his dedication in keeping his property well-groomed.

“Yard work was his exercise in martyrdom,” joked Jana. She said his extensive work ethic and meticulous attention to detail clearly translated from his work to the other parts of his life.

Byron loved to be on the water and owned a boat docked in Saugatuck called The Fancy Diver, named after one of his books.

While Byron was involved in the private Stony Brook association, he never ventured into town politics. “He wasn’t that type of joiner; town politics never interested him,” said Jana. “But he stayed in Weston because that area was always a true home for him.”

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  • Peter Green

    Chris was a great journalist, an entertaining writer, and a privilege to edit. Running the numbers and the giving everything the smell test, he was relentless in his efforts to rout out financial shenanigans and go after those who were ripping off the little guy. RIP Chris, we’ll miss you.

    • Patricia Gay

      I’m sorry to say I never met Chris. I wish I had. What an amazing job he did.

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