Galveston attorney and business leader John W. "Bill" Lyons Jr., a 1959 biology graduate of Texas A&M University and a lifelong champion of higher education, biological research and science promotion, has passed away at the age of 76.

Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday (April 23) at First United Methodist Church in Dickinson, Texas. Lyons died this past Wednesday (April 16) at his country home near College Station. Following the service, there will be a Celebration of Life gathering at the Gaido's in the Pelican Club in Galveston.

Lyons was managing partner in the Texas City-based law firm Lyons & Plackemeier PLLC until his retirement. His hopes for a medical career during his Texas A&M undergraduate days morphed into legal aspirations, culminating in a degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston in 1970. In addition to being a successful litigator, he was principal owner of Sea Lion Technology Inc. and Texas Molecular Limited Partnership, firms that provide a variety of services ranging from waste management to chemical manufacturing.

"Bill Lyons was a giant of a man who graduated with his biology degree and went on to do many remarkable things as an attorney, as an owner of multiple businesses and as a great supporter of Galveston Island," said Dr. H. Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science. "He was inducted into our Academy of Distinguished Former Students in 2006. Bill also endowed the first chair in our biology department, which enabled us to recruit the current chair holder, Distinguished Professor Paul Hardin, who is one of the world's top researchers in biological clocks.

"Bill was a mentor and also like a father to me. I will miss him terribly. I hate it that he is gone, but I celebrate his life and all the people who loved him."

Lyons also was a primary owner and leader of Mainland Bank in Texas City, a partner in the Gulf Greyhound Park and a trustee of the McDaniel Charitable Foundation, among other ventures. He parlayed his vast business success into benefits for his alma mater and the Galveston community. His financial contributions and professional service spanned multiple private fundraising units at Texas A&M as well as a large part of the Houston/Galveston/Gulf Coast area.

"Bill Lyons was a genuine Texas giant," said Dr. Eddie J. Davis '67, president of the Texas A&M Foundation. "His love and devotion for Texas A&M was only exceeded by his enormous commitment to young people on the Gulf Coast. With a personality twice his size, Bill quietly affected the lives of many Aggies, and his legacy will live on for many years."

Widely respected as a clear and critical thinker and an exceptionally modest man with "clean hands" -- a reference to his fastidious embodiment of the Aggie core values and his resolute character -- Lyons was a staunch advocate of higher education and the value it represented to both individuals and society. His commitments in this vital regard were many, including his creation of the Lyons Scholarship Program to fund four-year scholarships benefiting first-generation students at Texas A&M University at Galveston. In 2006, he funded two prestigious endowed chairs through the Texas A&M Foundation -- the first in the history of the Texas A&M Department of Biology and another at Texas A&M at Galveston reaffirming his longtime leadership in and support of biological research and sustainable habitats in the Gulf of Mexico through Texas A&M's maritime campus.

"Bill Lyons distinguished himself in business and provided scholarships, chairs and made many other philanthropic contributions to Texas A&M University and to Texas A&M at Galveston," said Rear Admiral Robert Smith III '61, president/chief executive officer at Texas A&M at Galveston. "Through my years of knowing Bill, I have learned that his most distinguishing traits were his love for students, his passion for the sciences and his leadership. Bill was truly legendary in Galveston County in his support of higher education, doing so proudly as an Aggie. He was one of the great ones, and I will miss him dearly."

Long before his philanthropic focus broadened to include academics, Lyons was a generous supporter of Texas A&M Athletics through the 12th Man Foundation. In addition to being a major contributor to the current Kyle Field renovation project and previous facility improvements, Lyons helped found the Athletic Learning Center to offer academic tutoring and life-skills mentorship to student-athletes at Texas A&M. He routinely offered his box seats at Kyle Field to Lyons Scholars, among others, and shared his season tickets in other sports with acquaintances new and old.

"Texas A&M Athletics has lost a true ambassador with the passing of Bill Lyons," said close friend Jacob Green '80, vice president of major gifts and endowments for the 12th Man Foundation as well as an All-American defensive end at Texas A&M and a two-time Pro Bowl selection during his 13-year National Football League career. "Bill had a passion for helping students achieve their potential by overcoming learning disabilities. As part of his lasting legacy with Aggie athletics, he endowed the first-ever reading specialist position within the department. Bill will be greatly missed by the Aggie family."

"Bill Lyons also loved Aggie Football," Newton added. "He was kind enough to ask me to come by his box in The Zone each week, and he asked me to go to a game at Oklahoma with him. He cared deeply about the players and their education, donating large amounts of funding to the athletic department's education program as well as to the 12th Man Foundation, and they returned this caring to him. Each week his box contained a who's who of athletes, politicians and a host of fascinating people. His box was the place to be. He always introduced me as the dean and said how important academics is."

An avid outdoorsman and environmentalist, Lyons took a personal leadership role in preserving and protecting his beloved Galveston area and Gulf of Mexico, conducting and funding ongoing fisheries research through the Texas A&M at Galveston marine biology department. Using his own resources, Lyons initiated or was instrumental in a number of projects to investigate game-fish migration and to analyze mercury concentrations in Gulf Coast fish. In 2007 through the McDaniel Charitable Foundation, he donated the Billy B, a 46-foot sport fishing vessel that, while on loan to Texas A&M at Galveston, performs the majority of the blue marlin tagging program work off of the Texas and Louisiana coasts.

"The McDaniel Chair in Sustainable Marine Fisheries at Texas A&M at Galveston has enabled marine biologists to make further significant studies in the Gulf of Mexico," Smith said. "His interest in the valuable wetlands of the coast resulted in the Texas A&M University at Galveston Wetlands Center, made possible through his entrepreneurship, his partnerships and his commitment related to the activities of the petrochemical industry. His long service to Texas A&M University at Galveston as a leader, member and Member Emeritus of the Board of Visitors speaks to his dedication to the institution, its mission, its studies and, most of all, to its students."

On a local level, Lyons has been very active in his native Galveston, particularly in his support for Galveston County public schools and scholarship programs. He initiated several comprehensive projects, including supplying defibrillators on public school campuses, adding safe equipment to elementary school playgrounds and providing new band uniforms for UIL competitions. He also funded and implemented the SAT-ACT placement examination preparation programs for public high schools, athletic track resurfacing and water purification systems to encourage students and the community to work together. In return, Lyons simply emphasized the significance of giving back, routinely imploring recipients to volunteer and to participate in community activities themselves and to serve as mentors to others.

"His feeling is that being of service in a community has greater value than money, and he tried to instill this in the students who benefited from his generous scholarship programs," said Don Birkelbach '70, another close friend and senior regional director of major gifts for the Texas A&M Foundation. "Students who worked with Bill in the field say that he has had a profound impact on their education and research, and that this interaction helped them grow as independent thinkers.

"He is the definition of who and what an Aggie represents through his philosophy that it's not what you have that matters; it is what you do with what you have, to serve a greater good and make a difference."

Lyons was preceded in death by his wife, Connie, on April 14, 2002, and is survived by three children; son Mark A. Lyons and wife Tina of Santa Fe, Texas, and daughters Melissa Lyons '82 of Iola, Texas, and Michelle Lyons Spier of Texas City, Texas; grandchildren Robbie Spier and wife Tiffany of Montgomery, Texas, Madison Spier '11 of College Station, Rachel Lyons of Sealy, Texas, Zachary Lyons of College Station and Nathan Norgan of Santa Fe, Texas; and great-granddaughters Taylor Haden, McKayla Anne and McKenzie Elaine Spier of Montgomery, Texas.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be sent to the Texas A&M Foundation, 401 George Bush Drive, College Station, Texas 77840. Please designate the Bill Lyons Memorial in the memo line of the check. Donations also can be made online at http://give.am/MemorialFund, indicating that the gift is in memory of Bill Lyons on the form.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • John W. "Bill" Lyons Jr. '59

    (Credit: Jim LaCombe / Texas A&M Foundation.)

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