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Vale Keith Lyons: A life in sport

Alex Rea 19 May 2020
Keith Lyons - London Welsh

Keith (far right) while playing for London Welsh. Photos: Supplied.

On Wednesday, 13 May 2020, Keith Lyons, loving husband, brother, father and grandfather died at the age of 68.

Professor Keith Lyons had a career spanning continents as a teacher and mentor in sports and education. Living in Australia for almost 20 years, Keith became an active member of the Braidwood community, working with the Braidwood and District Education Foundation and volunteering with the RFS.

Keith Lyons

Keith Lyons, loving husband, brother, father and grandfather, passed away on 13 May 2020.

The following Obituary was written by his son Sam Lyons.

Keith was born on 7 May 1952 in Buckley, North Wales. He was given a good start on his learning journey by his grandfather, who among other things taught him to write in the compact, neat and unique script that helped Keith graduate from Mold Grammar School, University of York, Loughborough College and the London School of Economics.

While at York, his desire for equality and justice came to the fore when he joined the anti-apartheid movement. In the following years he continued to speak out about the impact of apartheid on sport. His vocal opposition meant he was banned from travelling to South Africa.

Keith had the opportunity, while he studied for his PhD at the University of Surrey, to refine his interest in learning through an ethnographic study. This paved the way for his unique approach to observing sport and laid the foundation for his future career in performance analysis. Sport was a central part of Keith’s life, as a rugby player, a coach, a performance analyst and a coach mentor. The roles he performed were diverse, from lacrosse to canoeing, made possible by his ability to observe patterns and his desire to support people.

Keith graduating from the University of York

Keith graduating from the University of York 1973.

The suicide of his brother John in 1982 had a profound effect on Keith, after which he became more introspective. His wife Sue believed that it was this moment that solidified Keith’s desire to help others, especially those going through difficult times. Following Keith’s death, a number of the coaches he mentored recounted that Keith was often the only person to contact them after defeats or when they faced difficulties. When most people stayed quiet in times of trouble, Keith was there. Keith believed the time to step forward was when things were hard.

A triumphant moment for Keith came when he finally got to travel to a unified South Africa in 1995 as part of the Welsh Rugby World Cup Team. He later recalled that one part of that trip, an outreach project to teach young black South Africans to play rugby, was one of his happiest moments.

Keith moved to Australia in 2002 with his family. Family was the core of his identity. He loved being at home with his wife, children and later his grandchildren. Keith unconditionally supported his family in their endeavours and would travel the globe or stay awake for days to help them if they were in need. For his son, Sam, he spent thousands of hours on the riverbank watching and coaching regardless of the conditions, never complaining and always shouting encouragement.

Keith with the RFS

Keith in his fire-fighting uniform 2012.

The belief in the need to help others in their time of need led Keith to volunteer for the Rural Fire Service (RFS).

For years, Keith was there when the community needed him, fighting fires and helping at road traffic accidents. The camaraderie of the RFS gave Keith the supportive community that he had always hoped to create for others but for once got to experience for himself.

Keith recounted one particularly difficult fire where he had to protect a house and its occupants – a mother and four children – from a fast-moving bush fire. After hours of effort, Keith and his fellow crewmates saved the house, something that brought the normally reserved Keith to tears when reflecting on the positive impact he had on that family’s life.

Keith’s unique skill was to make everyone with whom he communicated know they were valued and their experience mattered – including those that provided him with care while he battled lymphoma of the brain. It was a real comfort to Keith’s family that they could spend that final year with him, focussing on his health and the family. His daughter Beth reflected that this was his last journey in learning as he embraced the new skills he needed and the new people he could share his time with.

Following several rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy Keith died in The Canberra Hospital at 1:30 am on 13 May 2020 surrounded by his family.

Just 10 days before his death, Keith wrote a birthday card to his wife Sue for the last time.

His handwriting was still compact, neat and unique, a fitting tribute to the power of a supportive teacher willing to invest in learning, an investment Keith made in so many, for whom life is better because he was there.

 Keith with his wife Sue

Keith with his wife Sue and grandchildren 2014.

Keith was preceded in death by his parents Donald and Joan, and his brother John. He is survived by his wife Sue, and his two children, Beth and Sam, his grandchildren Ivy and Jolyon, and his sister Judith.

There were many achievements from Keith’s life that are not recorded here but are documented on Wikipedia, a fitting place for a tribute to a man who championed open education for decades.

Keith’s funeral will be held on 20 May 2020 at 4:00 pm

Link: https://v2.streaming.funeralsuite.com.au/e/XlRFP49N

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Further information can be found here.

There will be a memorial service in Braidwood (date to be advised). More details will be provided at a later date when COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed.

The family has requested no flowers. Donations can be made to the Braidwood and District Education Foundation in recognition of Keith’s passion for providing opportunity for all to access education. Donations can be made here.

If you would like to leave your memories of Keith, please use the comment form at the bottom of Keith’s online obituary, or if you would prefer to leave private memories, please use the online condolence book.

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