Mental Health Champion – Gene Lyons
“Sometimes one person can make all the difference in the life of another. One man more than any other made such a difference to me, both personally and professionally, and he positively affected the course of my life in too many ways to enumerate. That man was Eugene Michael Lyons … Gene Lyons … who passed away in his sleep on Thursday morning, 6 April 2017.”
I’ve borrowed this passage from a lovely eulogy written about Gene Lyons by one of his closest friends, Michael E. Berumen. I do not know Michael personally, but I could not have chosen better words to describe the impact that Gene has had on my life and the lives of countless people. I was rendered speechless when I learned the sad news that we lost such a precious man. It was a comfort to read these words that validate what I already knew about Gene, he was a Mental Health Champion.
Gene Made an Impact Everywhere
I first met Gene at Western Youth Services where he was a Board of Directors member since the 1980s. I was not yet the CEO, I was serving in the role of Program Director and Clinical Psychologist. We had an instant rapport!
Over the years, we have been through many personal and professional experiences together – happy, sad, powerful – he was always there for us and I have learned so very much from him. I have picked up the phone to call him to ask a question more than once since his passing… I will miss him terribly, as will so many other people.
Everyone on the Board knows how much I relied on Gene’s guidance and mentorship. At our April Board meeting, we shared our own private celebration of Gene’s life. I blubbered through most of it – there were some wonderful memories shared about his long tenure on our Board and the true impact he has on this agency and me personally. His humble and helpful approach to leadership was acknowledged by each Board member.
His seat was glaringly empty so we placed a lily, candles, and photos of Gene at his usual place at the table. The Board resolved to never fill his seat – the actual chair he sat in at every Board meeting will remain vacant in his honor. He will be with us in spirit and his legacy lives on at Western Youth Services.
Memories of Gene
I have many fond memories of Gene. He was my trusted advisor, mentor, supporter, and my biggest fan both personally and professionally. When his son Parker called to give me the news, one of the things I said to him was that Gene was more of a father to me than any other person I could have called Dad.
Those who know my story know the significance of that statement. Parker became emotional and said “you are the third person who said that today.” Parker also said, “for a man who didn’t have a father, he sure knew how to be one to many.”
Gene’s license plate read “GENETLC”. I once told him that was the perfect license plate for him. Gene Tender Loving Care. He smiled and said, it’s Gene The Lyons Company. We had a nice laugh together. But it will always be the tender loving care from Gene that is in my heart and what has contributed to healing of some of my long-standing wounds.
Honoring a Life Well Lived
Gene was an incredibly generous man and he loved Western Youth Services. We are blessed beyond measure that his family is asking friends to consider a donation to Western Youth Services in Gene’s honor, in lieu of flowers and such.
Prior to his passing, we were in full planning mode for our film screening on May 4th in honor of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. The film we will be showing is “Resilience” and the timing is impeccable, as the film points out the importance of having a caring and dependable adult and support system to build resilience in children, especially those who have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences aka ACEs (such as abuse, neglect, significant loss, etc). Gene was very excited about this event and it brings us great joy to dedicate this event to him and all he contributed to our mission over these many years. I will say a few words about my personal story and how Gene impacted my life, as that caring adult and fierce advocate for helping children heal and find hope. If you would like to join us, you can learn more here.
Gene will be with us always! He has left an indelible mark in ways we cannot begin to know. The level of commitment and community that he contributed over the years has a ripple effect that cannot be measured. I have no doubt that his wisdom and sound counsel will benefit so many more than he ever imaged possible.
Bless you Gene. You will never be forgotten.
Lorry Leigh Belhumeur, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer
Western Youth Services