August 3, 1944 - March 8, 2018
Dr Pearse Lyons died on 8th March 2018 aged 73 in Lexington Kentucky due to an acute lung condition that developed during his recovery from heart surgery. Dr Lyons was a friend and mentor to many scientists and business people across the world, myself included. He had a great sense of humour, and considered that work should involve friends and fun, as well as achievement.
As Alric Blake said in the public obituary, and I think many will concur: “From farm to field, from market to family dinner table, our world is immeasurably better because he was a man who never saw problems, only a challenge that had not yet been solved. He inspired everyone he met with his energy, enthusiasm and passionate belief in possibilities.”
Dr Lyons had a degree from University College Dublin (Biochemistry), an MSc in brewing and fermentation from the British School of Malting and Brewing (now part of University of Birmingham, UK) and a PhD in biochemistry from University of Birmingham, UK, obtained in 1971. He was given an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2004. In the 1970s he worked in the brewing industry and emigrated to the USA in 1976, where he started the Alltech company in 1980 with a US$10,000 loan, working from his garage. He was one of the original pioneers in specialist animal feed ingredients, involved in the early days of enzymes and pre-biotics. His business took off in the mid-1980s, and some of the original staff from these times are still with the company, which retains a family feel to it, even with expansion to its current levels. Through its work in yeast and solid-state fermentation as well as the science of nutrigenomics and algae production, Alltech is now a leading producer and processor of yeast additives, organic trace minerals, zootechnical feed ingredients, premixes and feed. The company has a guiding ACE (animal, consumer, environment) principle and employs more than 5,000 team members worldwide.
On a personal note, I have worked with Dr Lyons for many years, and, like so many others, have great tales regarding those times. The Alltech Lecture Tour was an annual event, where participants lived inclose proximity on the company jet for many days on end, surviving the punishing schedule (2-3 countries per day) on biscuits and Kentucky Ale, all with good humour and a great sense of camaraderie. He never ceased in his efforts to try to drag me out for a morning run, somewhat unsuccessfully I might add. More importantly, he taught me to push the boundaries of my scientific abilities and not be afraid to do something new.
Dr Lyons always encouraged and promoted animal science, sponsoring many PhDs, encouraging young scientists in their work and conducting large amounts of commercial research in all species. Many scientists have expressed to me how thankful they are to have been given such opportunities and funding for trials by email in recent days. Dr Lyons always made time for everyone, and was a generous and kind man, and told me once “a person may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel”. He was a strong advocate of ‘make a friend not a client’. From him I got my drive to conduct science and related activities in new areas that are under-represented, including publishing.
Dr Lyons instigated various philanthropic ventures, such as supporting Americans for the Arts, sponsoring the World Equestrian Games, Alltech Vocal Scholarship, Alltech Young Scientist Awards, and the Sustainable Haiti Project. He was well known in political and charity circles and received many accolades from the business and scientific world. He published a large volume of scientific papers and books, and was a strong advocate of communication in science, especially relating to practical and commercial applications.
Our thoughts must go to his family, his lovely wife Deirdre, daughter Aoife, son Mark and daughter-in-law Holly, as well as to the rest of the ‘family’ both working in and with Alltech around the world. As Mark said of his father, “He saw farther into the horizon than anyone in the industry, and we, as his team, are committed to delivering on the future he envisioned. He planted seeds that will produce a bountiful harvest for the world in the years to come.”
The family is encouraging donations in his memory to the Alltech ACE Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit organisation that funds a variety of philanthropic endeavours around the world from disaster relief to primary schools in Haiti. Donations may be made at alltech.com/pearselyons. Funeral masses will be in Lexington, Kentucky, USA, on March 17 and in Dublin, Ireland, in April. A special celebration of life will be held on May 20 at the beginning of the Alltech Ideas Conference, in Lexington, KY.
A lovely man and a leader of innovation in animal science, who will be sadly missed by all.
Dr Lucy Waldron