City and council colleagues pay tribute to former mayor Joe Lyons

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Longtime Claremont resident and former mayor Joe Lyons died Thursday, December 8 at the age of 77.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Joseph M. Lyons, former Claremont Council Member and Mayor. Joe passed away earlier today surrounded by his loved ones,” read a statement from the city. “Our sincere condolences to his family and friends. He will be deeply missed and forever remembered for his strong convictions and commitment to bettering his community.”

The city lowered its flags to half-staff in Lyons’ honor this past week.

“Joe Lyons was so much more than a Council member and mayor,” Claremont City Council member Jed Leano told the COURIER in a text message. “He was the San Gabriel Valley’s original champion for affordable housing and homelessness, inspiring a new generation of housing and homelessness advocates. Before there was Measure H, Housing Claremont, Inclusive Claremont, or Claremont Tenants United, there was Joe Lyons. We must never stop fighting for Joe’s vision of housing all our neighbors.”

Longtime Claremont resident and former mayor Joe Lyons died Thursday, December 8, at the age of 77. COURIER photo/Steven Felschundneff

One of his strongest legacies will be the passage of Measure H, which raised sales tax by a quarter of a cent to fund homeless services in Los Angeles County. The measure was in danger of failing, according to Leano, but through Lyons’ efforts the campaign turned around and was approved by 69.34% of voters.

The five current council members shared their personal memories of Lyons and offered condolences to his family during Tuesday’s meeting.

“And when the supervisors saw Measure H was in trouble, they knew there was only one phone call to make, and that was to Joe Lyons,” Leano said Tuesday. “Because of Joe, hundreds of millions of dollars of homeless services will be working to help house our unsheltered neighbors.”

Council member Corey Calaycay expressed his gratitude for having known Lyons personally and to have worked with him, even though they had very different political viewpoints.

“I hope that we set a positive example for our community that people with differences of opinion can have a relationship outside of politics and find things they can agree upon,” Calaycay said. “I appreciate what a principled person he was. He knew what he stood for, and he always lived by what he stood for, and he leaves that legacy.”

“When I think of Joe I [remember] his conviction, his passion, his compassion, and it’s truly a life well lived,” Council member Jennifer Stark said. “And he will leave a mark forever, not just in our town but regionally. I feel very lucky to have known him and to have been able to work with him.”

Many former City Council members leave office and retreat into a well-deserved quiet life at home — but not Lyons. He continued to participate in council meetings, frequently expressing his views during public comment, often more than once per night. He was not shy about calling on his former council colleagues to do the right thing with their votes, particularly when it came to issues of homelessness and affordable housing.

He was also a was a prolific author of letters and viewpoint articles published in the COURIER.

“He was a person who cared up until the very end,” COURIER Editor Mick Rhodes said.

He held a Ph.D. in immunogenetics and worked in medical research for 37 years before retiring from the City of Hope National Medical Center in 2009.

Lyons served on the City Council from March 2011 to November 2018, and as mayor in 2014-15. He was the council representative to Tri-City Mental Health, the Six Basins Water Master Board, the Pomona Valley Transit Authority, the Claremont Committee on Aging, the council’s commission nominating ad hoc committee, Foothill Transit, and the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments.

He remained active in the community as a volunteer and advisor until recent health issues curtailed his activity.

A father of four sons, Lyons moved to Claremont in 2002. He is survived by his family and his life partner Sharyn Webb.

“Thank you to all for your comments and posts about Papa Joe,” his son Matthew Lyons said via social media. “Dad loved Claremont and the constant pursuit for a more perfect community and world. He taught us to show up and add value, through his example of public service and action and he clearly touched the lives of many. He also pontificated with the best of them. So, the city of trees and PhDs was the perfect fit for Dad.”

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