Andover community mourns passing of Faculty Emeritus Tom Lyons
Memorial service for beloved history instructor set for Saturday, Dec. 1 at Cochran Chapel
October 12, 2012
--Thomas T. Lyons, a legendary teacher, legal scholar, published author, and beloved member of the Phillips Academy faculty for 36 years, died quietly at home surrounded by family on October 11 following a battle with cancer. A memorial service in celebration of his life is planned for Saturday, December 1, at 11 a.m. in Cochran Chapel. Further information will be forthcoming.
Lyons taught history from 1963 to 1999, and for a number of years also served as department chair before retiring to Newburyport, Mass. He returned briefly in 2000 to teach a course on the Constitution and the Supreme Court.
An academic and multisport standout at Reading High School, Lyons attended Brown University, where his football skills earned him a varsity spot as quarterback. His athletics career was cut short during his junior year, however, when he was stricken by polio. Following lengthy treatment and recovery, he attended Harvard, where he earned BA and MAT degrees.
In addition to teaching at Andover, Lyons also coached football, served as advisor to the Phillipian, and ran a dorm with his wife, Eleanor. All four Lyons children attended Andover (John ’78, Kathleen Fanikos ’81, David ’83, and Joseph ’89), as did one grandchild; a second grandchild is a current student.
In honor of his retiring history department colleague, Faculty Emeritus Ed Quattlebaum ’60 wrote an Andover Bulletin profile about Lyons in 1999. “Tom treated colleagues like family…” he wrote. “If a department member fell ill, Tom was at bedside or hospital before the doctor. Tom knew about our children’s soccer agonies, our spouses’ careers, the color of the shoes we wore to each other’s weddings.”
Upon learning of Lyons’s passing, instructor in history and social science Vic Henningsen ’69 wrote the following tribute:
Tom was a force of nature in the classroom, one of the most effective and memorable teachers I’ve ever encountered and someone students never forgot. He ran a dorm, coached football, served as advisor to the Phillipian, and, most especially, was the heart and soul of American history here. His senior electives on the Presidency and, especially, Constitutional Law, were both challenging and extraordinarily popular with our finest students. He’s the only high school history teacher I know of whose retirement was covered extensively by the New York Times.
He’s also the only person I’ve ever met who could write on the board faster than he talked, and his extensive, detailed outlines of the day’s lesson were unforgettable. Woe betide the poor soul (often me) who shared his classroom and hoped to use the blackboard, always covered with Tom’s notes. A student once looked at a Lyons lesson (well ahead of where I was at the moment) and asked “What does he do, finish the course in January and start over?”
Tom conducted a kind of ongoing daily seminar on current events around the department table that enlivened our collective work and reminded us of the many ties that bind past to present. Election years were always high points: potential appointments to the Supreme Court and possible shifts in judicial interpretations, the complexities of the Electoral College, the importance of early primaries, and the voting habits of obscure districts in rural areas were the kinds of topics one might encounter at the table if your free periods coincided with his. As chair, he guided the department with a firm and fair hand and was a wonderful mentor to me and to other younger members of the department. He took a deep personal interest in his students and his colleagues and went out of his way to help and to mentor us all. I’ll always feel that I stand in his shadow.
Please share your memories below or on the posting on the Phillips Academy Facebook page.