Oldest living alum still active in community

From left, senior and student body President Greg Hoffman, Jr., George Lyons, ’31, and Director of Alumni Relations Willie Madden, ’82 stop for a photo at Lyons’ retirement home. Photo by Aaron Reiss

By Greg Hoffman, Jr.
Eagle Editorial Board

On Thursday, Oct. 19, George Lyons ’31, the school’s oldest living alumni, celebrated his 99th birthday at his home at St. Dominic’s Retirement Center.

Lyons was the second member of his family to attend St. Thomas, after his father, Thomas N. Lyons ’02 – that’s 1902.

During his time here, school was far different. Round–Up did not exist, the school was still located in downtown Houston and it ran from 4th to 10th grade, with high school being only two years.

During his time at St. Thomas, the school was still at the campus in downtown on Austin Street.

“The building was three stories, and the priests lived on the third story,” Lyons said. “We also celebrated mass up there.”

Lyons discussed his trip with Rev.  Thomas P. O’Rourke, C.S.B. (the school’s ninth principal, from 1927 – 1931), to the current campus where he had to drive his father’s Dodge through the dirt roads. The bayou property was purchased by the Basilians, and they planned to build a school there, despite much criticism from people calling it the country and the boondocks.

Lyons also discussed the large presence of priests during his school days.

“All of our teachers were priests,” Lyons said. “Not a single lay person. I remember my Latin teacher, Fr. Nile, would hit us with a leather strap when we forgot to bring our homework.

“Fortunately for me, I never got hit because I always turned in my Latin homework.”

The world was far different back then with corporal punishment still present in schools. The United States was still less than 50 states, and tuition was set somewhere less than $500.

One thing Lyons’ described as very similar to today was a form of off-campus lunch.

“Every Friday, we would celebrate mass and after mass we would go get breakfast during our break between mass and classes,” Lyons said. “We used to go to a place right across from the Rice Hotel that was owned by my friend Lewis who went to school with us.”

After graduating from St. Thomas, Lyons went on to marry Mary Gentry. They had seven kids and were married for 60 years.

Their youngest son, Larry, continued the tradition and graduated in 1976. The Lyons family has been a constant of the St. Thomas community, as over 20 people related to the family have attended St. Thomas.

Lyons was also a distant relative of a senior last year, Justin McConn.

Lyons was on campus last Friday, Oct. 19 for the Good Ol’ Boys Luncheon and celebrated his 81st class reunion.