We celebrate today our dear friend Andy Lyons, whose life and leadership of the Irvington Historical Society made its mark in our Village. Andy was the President of the Irvington Historical Society for seven years, during which time he oversaw the renovation of the McVickar House on Main Street. His enthusiasm, energy and good cheer inspired us all.
Andrew Christopher Lyons, of Annapolis, MD, passed away on April 18, 2023 at age 73. His motto was “make sure you have stories to tell at the end” and he did not fail to live up to it. His resume of life experience reads like a movie script: producing Grateful Dead concerts in St. Louis, shaking hands with mob boss Frank Costello, dodging pick-pocketing macaques in the port of Bombay, playing backgammon with the director of the FBI, taking in two Hell’s Angels named Cotton and Bonsai, bartending at Balaban’s with drag queen Lady Charles, or weathering a hurricane in the Indian Ocean with the Merchant Marines.
But for every story Andy had, someone has a story to tell about Andy. True, his signature ponytail and expletive-laced “Andyisms” made him memorable — but his radical generosity and goodness made him unforgettable. Most stories entail one of his stunningly kind deeds: the roof he put over someone’s head, the hope he instilled in someone at their lowest point, the job he gave to someone on their last dime, the archive he saved from a flood, the historic building he brought back to life, the main street he helped rejuvenate. He was the first to visit a friend in the hospital, first to send a condolence note, first to give you a second chance, and first to give you a raise, too. He often said you should “pay people as much as you can, not as little.” Andy believed in people and, even better, he had an unmatched gift for making people believe in themselves. He was a natural leader and could be quite intimidating with his Brooklyn accent, but all will remember him as a thoughtful listener, respectful, and hard-working, with a winsome smile and old soul.
Sailing The Sound & The Sea
As the middle child in an Irish-Italian family of seven, Andy was born in Brooklyn on Christmas Day in 1949 to obstetrician Thomas J. Lyons Jr., MD and Elizabeth Thompson Lyons. He joked he was dropped down the chimney on Christmas morning and has the burn marks on his butt to prove it. He grew up in Babylon, NY, sailing on Long Island Sound, finding 100 ways to make a nickel around the neighborhood, cooking Sunday gravy with his mother, and pestering tradesmen on any job site to teach him something. With dyslexia and a deep-seated distrust of authority, he chafed against formal schooling but read voraciously on his own, developed an encyclopedic memory, and could take apart and reassemble any machine by the age of ten. He was very close with his six siblings—a tight-knit bunch who looked out for each other throughout Andy’s entire life.
Right after graduating from Bay Shore High School in 1969, he sailed around the world as a civilian Able Seaman with The Merchant Marines. Aboard the container ship, the President Adams, he delivered critical supplies to the Armed Forces during the height of the Vietnam War. Few can forget his stories of visiting the ports of Saigon, Singapore, and Bombay, encountering pythons and pugnacious mariners alike under the wing of his seadog bunkmates, Cuddles and Feeney.
The Grateful Dead & The Great Dad
After returning home, Andy followed his beloved older brother, Tommy, to St. Louis in 1970. He attended St. Louis University for a year, remembered he still hated school, and dropped out to become a carpenter. He also worked as a specialty machinist, helping to engineer and repair the machines that put the squiggle on the Hostess cupcake, the butter in the Butterball Turkey, and the checkerboard in the Sealtest ice cream. Tall and lanky in skin-tight bell bottoms and his lion’s mane of long hair, he raised eyebrows among employers from The Greatest Generation. But his head-down work ethic, perfect manners, and problem-solving ingenuity quickly earned him their respect. When an Annheiser Busch fermentation tank sprang a bottom leak, threatening to take the operation offline for days, Andy was able to fix it within 15 minutes by welding upside down and backwards using an employee’s cosmetic mirror.
In 1971, he rehabbed a Central West End building into a communal home with several friends. At one of the house’s gatherings, Andy and some friends got the hare-brained idea to organize a Grateful Dead concert at the Fox Theatre. They founded Sky High Entertainment and, without any prior experience, produced what have been hailed by Dead Net as “some of the best shows the Grateful Dead played during some of its peak tours.” The concerts took place on December 9-10, 1971 and October 17-19, 1972 and were released in 2021 by Rhino Records as the 20-disc “Listen to the River” box set, which reached #15 on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums that year.
Andy would say, however, that his best job began in 1978 when he became a dad. At another one of the house’s gatherings, he met the smart, creative Charlotte Matthews of St. Louis, MO, whom he married in 1974. He and Charlotte gave birth to three daughters, Erin, Maggie, and Mo — and anyone who knew Andy knew “his girls” were everything to him. He made it his life’s mission to be a good dad. After the birth of Erin and Maggie in 1978 and 1981, Andy devoted himself to providing for his family and pursued a career as a commodities trader with Morgan Stanley at the Chicago Board of Trade. The family moved to Oak Park, IL in 1983 and Andy moved up quickly to trading desk manager and then vice president, navigating the trading team through the shoals of the Black Monday market crash. His third daughter, Charlotte Maury or “Mo,” was born in 1987.
While his colleagues were buying Corvettes in the heyday of the 1980’s financial markets, Andy bought high-end woodworking equipment for his basement workshop. There, he cranked up the tunes and turned out treasures for his wife and daughters: a drawing desk for Charlotte’s art career, jewelry boxes, doll furniture, and exquisite sets of dominoes for each daughter. He met each girl wherever their interests overlapped and fostered their independence while deftly bonding them to him: fishing with Erin, cooking with Maggie, and sporting events with Mo. He was an omnipresent parent: he coached the girls’ t-ball and softball teams, volunteered at their schools, and hauled the family on adventures near and far to soak up the best life had to offer. He was the kind of dad who would do anything for his daughters to keep them safe and supported, whether that meant teaching Maggie how to change a tire; flying into Florida to rush Mo to a sinus surgeon during a field hockey clinic; or driving a U-Haul of Erin’s things from DC to Vermont after her divorce. They could talk to him about math problems and boy problems, bad bosses and big dreams. He always told them: “You are capable of anything” and “Do your best, because your best is pretty good stuff.”
A Good Citizen
In 1997, he accepted a family member’s invitation to return to his roots in New York, renovating and managing an historic nine-acre warehouse property on the Hudson River in Irvington-on-Hudson, NY. The family relocated to Irvington and Andy successfully oversaw the transformation of Bridge Street Properties, an adaptive re-use office campus that achieved one of Irvington’s first LEED certifications and attracted tenants such as Seth Godin Enterprises and Eileen Fisher.
Andy was the president of the Irvington Historical Society for seven years, overseeing the renovation of the McVickar house on Main Street. As co-chair of the Historic District Committee, he helped Irvington achieve an Historic District designation on the New York State and Federal Register of Historic Places. In addition, he served as chair of Irvington’s Architectural Review Board, chair of the Quadricentennial Celebration committee, member of the FACE Committee, Water Safety Director for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s annual Hudson River Swim, and member of the Irvington Business Improvement Committee.
In 2010, he was awarded the Adele Warnock Good Citizenship Award by the Village of Irvington. Upon Andy’s retirement from the Historical Society, former Society President Pat Ryan wrote, “Andy made enormous contributions to the Society and the Village of Irvington. His unfailing energy, dedication to historic preservation, and vast knowledge of topics ranging from mechanical engineering and architectural detail to local history provided both inspiration and leadership. In fact, very little happened in Irvington that Andy was not part of. Easygoing, supportive, and incredibly resourceful, Andy will be sorely missed by the entire Irvington community.”
A New Harbor
In the last chapter of Andy’s life, Andy found new love and also returned to his old love of maritime culture. After 38 years of marriage, he and Charlotte divorced amicably and he followed his brother Tommy once again to make a new start in Annapolis, MD. There, he was able to enjoy maritime life again on the Chesapeake aboard his Grady White, “Betta.” He also took profound pride in becoming a volunteer model shipwright in the Ship Model Shop at The U.S. Naval Academy Museum, where he worked on restoring one of the world’s finest collections of warship models from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
One of the best parts of his Annapolis life was the Second Half Rally Meetup Group he joined, where he made many friends — and met his dear love, Nancy LeBarron of Annapolis, MD. He and Nancy had only a short time to enjoy their golden years together before kidney disease began to limit Andy’s mobility. The couple still made the best of it, moving in together, vacationing in Vermont and Ocean City and Florida, and seeing their Meetup Group friends weekly at music events around Annapolis and Baltimore. Nancy supported and cared for Andy unwaveringly for his last four years as if they had been together for forty years. And Tommy, ever the devoted big brother and best friend, drove him to and from every dialysis session and kept him connected to some of his favorite things: time on the water and time with family.
When it became clear that Andy needed a kidney transplant, his daughters launched a campaign to find him a kidney and no fewer than four people stepped forward to undergo testing. Andy and his family were especially grateful to Lindsey DuPell and Nan Nix for going through two years of testing in order to donate a kidney and giving him a vital source of hope all the way up to his last days. He died peacefully at Luminis Anne Arundel Medical Center, surrounded by loved ones. Some of his last words were classic Andy: “I’ve lived a good f*cking life.”