In Memoriam: Thomas Lyons

Thomas Lyons '50, who devoted much of his life to fighting for social justice around the world, passed away on July 25, 2004. He was 77.

During the commencement speech to Saint Mary's College Class of 2000, Mr. Lyons told the graduating students that by volunteering their time to worthy causes, they could change the world and enrich their own lives.

Mr. Lyons did just that in 1961 when he quit his job as an attorney and joined the Catholic Relief Services (CRS). He spent more than three decades working for CRS helping people in Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Brazil, Ethiopia, Jerusalem, Syria and Jordan.

Mr. Lyons once described Catholic social action as something one breathes rather than something one does. "When you spend enough time in immersion in an unjust situation, you begin to understand social issues and action," he said.

Born in 1927 to parents who had fled Ireland during troubled times, Mr. Lyons said he developed a sense of social justice early in life. After graduating from Saint Mary's College in 1950, Mr. Lyons earned his law degree at the University of San Francisco and went to work for the Alameda County Public Defender's Office. It was after completing work on a death penalty case that Mr. Lyons decided to board a freighter to Buenos Aires and begin decades of service to victims of poverty and strife.

He later settled in Santa Barbara, Calif., but continued his Catholic outreach work as a detention minister for county jail inmates. In addition, he organized protests against the death penalty, the wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq, and to demand closing of the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., which trains Latin American soldiers in counter-insurgency.

Mr. Lyons is survived by his wife, Emita, of Santa Barbara, his three children: Monica Harris '88 of Folsom; Tomas Lyons III '91; and John Lyons of Santa Barbara, and three grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother, Robert Lyons of Livermore, and his sister, Rosaleen Randall of Roseville. The family requests that donations be made to the Breast Cancer Research Fund or to the charity of your choice.

A Celebration of Life Mass will be held in the Saint Mary's Chapel on Aug. 5 at 1 p.m. A reception will immediately follow in the Lafayette Room of the Soda Center.