Eulogy: Charlton Havard Lyons, Jr.

Eulogy: Charlton Havard Lyons, Jr.

I’m so grateful that my grandfather is not alive to hear this eulogy. In the first place, he would find it wildly inappropriate that we eulogize him in advance of his death. And secondarily, he would likely write me an extensive missive offering abundant praise and stark criticism for the content, word choice and presentation of the material you are about to hear. Finally, there are no puns. Not even one. I could tell you a chemistry joke, but I’m just afraid I won’t get a reaction.

People have said they don’t make men like Charlton Lyons any more. I think that’s ridiculous because there’s never been a man like Charlton Lyons. He was one of the greatest orators I’ve ever known. Growing up, I had always thought he was an actor, playwright and singer. His voice on stage at the Marjorie Lyons Playhouse or in his house on Querbes was so compelling, I was certain that had been his life’s vocation. I was 16 before I knew he was a lawyer and an oilman.

My God could he write. Each word more esoteric than the next. Sentences that rivaled James Joyce in complexity, wit and poetry. Word choice was paramount to Pa, both written and speaking. Woe to the grandchild that chose a word carelessly and had to defend its meaning and usage. Each book, script, document, letter and even email was suitable to be used as evidence in a court of law for its accuracy and ability to communicate precisely what Pa was thinking.

Pa was dedicated to the truth. He believed in honesty and integrity above all else. He told the truth, always, as far as I can tell. He said what he thought and you could trust that he would certainly give you clear, honest feedback. Even when it hurt. He seemed to feel that it was better to tell you the truth and hurt your feelings now, than lead you on by being kind and hurting you more later. And he expected, even demanded the same from you.

When he wrote “The Songs I Heard My Mother Sing,” my father connected him with an Endowed Professor of Creative Writing at Rice University to be one of his first readers.  She called my dad and asked if she should tell him it was great, or if she should treat him like a student and explain each and every flaw. He told her to give him the truth. And she did. I don’t know if he rewrote it. But, I know he thanked my father for such a good connection.  

I once asked if he would be interested in investing in a business idea I had. He got furious, saying he had learned better, and would never ruin his relationship with me by bringing money into it. As money could ruin anything. It hurt that he didn’t even want to hear my idea. And he wouldn’t even consider investing in me and my future. But, he understood that there was a downside to it. And that risk was something he was completely averse to.

Talking to Pa about something he was interested in was sublime. He laughed, responded, asked questions, jumped into the discussion with enthusiasm and passion that could not be contained. But, sometimes, his interest in you felt conditional. There was an intense pressure to be accurate, engaging, deeply philosophical, but never take yourself too seriously and all the while being certain to offer value and innovation to entertain and play with words and performance.

It was obvious when he was done talking about a particular subject. As someone who loved an engaged audience, he was the best. While he was a great actor, he was the greatest of all audiences. When he was over my story, it was soul-crushing. I’ve realized that when he was ready to move on to a new topic, it wasn’t that he was dismissing you, he was just dismissing the old idea, excited to discover a new one.

I have come to understand, just this week, that as much as his time and attention and interest were entirely conditional, his love was unconditional.

We always knew he was capable of great and all-consuming love. He was an intensely loyal friend. Tom Stagg and B.F. O’Neal weren’t related to us, but they’ve been in our family for more than 90 years. I thought for sure they were Pa’s brothers.

And we had seen his love for Peggy and the way he treated her. And we all wanted that kind of love. We wanted him to be tender and kind with us.

And we knew his love for the theatre, and music, and life, and singing. Watching him sing was a delight and beautiful, and made everyone smile and want to join in.

And we knew his love for Louisiana. For hunting and fishing. And just being outside.

And we knew his love for America. And the Law. And Ireland. And technology. And just about any new and interesting field of study or topic of current events. He relished in them. And loved discourse.

The scripture said we are the heirs of Christ. We are the heirs to His joy and His suffering.

We are the heirs of Charlton Lyons. We are the heirs to his intellect and wit, his singing, oration and performance. He are heirs to his passion. His joie de vivre. His obsession with genealogy and family. His truth and integrity.

But we are also the heirs to his suffering. When we are too direct, and use sharp words that sting. When we become recluse to avoid the disappointment that comes from other people. When we are distracted by our own thoughts and needs and don’t listen to someone else. When we are so certain we are right, that we argue every point to conclusion. Those are the times we are heirs to his suffering.

The scripture said we are the heirs to Christ’s joy and suffering. And we are heirs to the Glory of God. Pa’s glory was his laugh. For my first marriage 24 years ago, we gave each family a welcome basket at the hotel that included bubbles. I remember walking into the Embassy Suites to see Pa on the third floor balcony singing “I’m forever blowing bubbles.” With hundreds of soapy spheres dancing through the atrium. And then, that laugh. That amazing, strong and deep Ho, Ho, Ho. The laugh that makes Santa Claus feel inadequate. We are heirs to his laugh. We are heirs to his joy.

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